Telstar @ New Ambassadors Theatre, London

cast list
Con O’Neill
Linda Robson
Roland Manookian
Gareth Corke
Philip York
William Woods
Tarl Caple
David Hayler
Joseph Morgan
Callum Dixon
Guy Lewis

written by
Nick Moran and James Hicks

directed by
Paul Jepson

The strange, short life of record producer Joe Meek is a playwright’s dream. After all “gay sex, drugs, rock and roll, multiple murder and devil worship” is a pretty heady tag line for any play.

Written by the actor Nick Moran, along with James Hicks, Telstar, like so many biographical dramas has that compelling stranger-than-fiction quality. Its a comedy, a tragedy, a love story and murder mystery all rolled into one.

Meek was a deeply complex character. A homosexual, charismatic, tone-deaf songwriter who produced such hits as “Have I the Right”, “Just Like Eddie”, “Johnny, Remember Me” and, of course, the best-selling instrumental “Telstar.”

Con O’Neill’s performance as Meek is far and away the highlight of the evening. As the self-proclaimed genius he simply oozes charm, overshadowing everyone else on stage in the first act. And later on the play he is equally convincing and incredibly touching in his portrayal of Meeks demise. His portrayal of the cocky, confident businessman is a really first-rate piece of acting and the play benefits hugely from it.

Thats not to downplay the quality of the dialogue. Moran and Hicks have produced an intricate and intelligent script. They have chosen a deliberately conventional, linear structure that allows the story to speak for itself; the play takes in a day from each year in the life of Joe Meek from 1961 to 1963.

The set too is simple yet effective, the entire play taking place in Joe’s flat above a handbag shop at 304 Holloway Road (an address which at one point was to be the play’s title.) It is this same flat that Meek transformed into one of the first independent recording studios in the UK.

Although in a relatively small role, Linda Robson is excellent as Meek’s landlady Mrs Shenton, a woman who must have been an absolute saint to tolerate such a tenant. Robson plays her with great sensitivity; her character is Joes confidante as well as his landlady, and she is particularly strong in the scene where she kicks Joe’s ungrateful and unrequited love interest, Heinz Burt out of his flat. Screaming about the fact that she has survived two world wars, this scene is one of the comic highpoints of the play.

Though it has many moments of humour, Meek’s story is ultimately a tragic one. He was undeniably talented, but blinded by love he made some serious financial mistakes – mistakes which, not only led to the death of his company, but eventually to his own demise.

Over the years the story of Joe Meek may have fallen somewhat by the wayside in comparison to some of the more famous rock and roll downfalls but Moran and Hicks have done an excellent job in reviving interest in an unusual figure who deserves to be remembered.

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