Theatre review: Janis Joplin: Full Tilt, Glasgow

Janis Joplin in 1969: Arnott's play explores two main shaping influences on her life and music. Picture: AP
Janis Joplin in 1969: Arnott's play explores two main shaping influences on her life and music. Picture: AP
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THERE have been times, over the past year in Scottish theatre, when it’s begun to seem that we have no actors left who are not also superb musicians and singers.

Janis Joplin: Full Tilt - Oran Mor, Glasgow

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Peter Arnott’s new Play, Pie And Pint show about the brief, blazing life of Janis Joplin features a four-piece band, and a short appearance from Samuel Keefe as Janis’s last-ever hotel desk clerk; but its centrepiece is a performance from Angie Darcy as Janis, so brilliant and intense both musically and dramatically that it lifts the hairs on the back of the neck.

In a brief 45 minutes of monologue and song – with one muted intervention from Janis’s lead guitarist, Harry Ward, – Arnott’s play, often based on Joplin’s own words, explores two main shaping influences on her life and music. The first is her full-tilt 1960s rebellion against the small-town values with which she was brought up, in 1950s Texas. “I am the rock, you are the f***ing window!” she roars, enraged by the racism and sexism of that world.

The other strand, though, lies in Joplin’s profound yearning for a love and acceptance that – as a big, chunky, noisy, raging woman artist – she never really found anywhere; and the overwhelming sadness that drove her not only to her finest work, but also to drink, drugs, and a lonely hotel room death at 27. In the end, Joplin was a great singer and musician destroyed by the raw and often agonising emotional truth that powered her songs. In her brief hours on stage, though, she left a brilliant and unanswerable musical legacy, magnificently celebrated by Darcy and the company in Cora Bissett’s production; and to judge by the response of the Oran Mor audience, it’s a legacy that blazes on, more than 40 years after Janis’s very last night on the town.