Review // Chasing Bono at Soho Theatre

I haven’t read the book, I haven’t seen the film but I roughly know the story. Northside Dublin,  late 1970s / early 1980s.  Two friends are in bands, one turns out to be a fella called Bono and he has a band called U2. Neil McCormick’s band never really took off.  McCormick wrote his story, ‘I was Bono’s Doppelgänger’. It has now reached the stage.

Screenwriters of the film, ‘Killing Bono’, Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais have been given the task of taking ‘Chasing Bono’ to the stage. It’s hardly a coincidence that these pair, as well as writing The Likely Lads and Auf Weidersehen Pet, have another Northside Dublin story under their belt. Yup, The Commitments.

The play begins in 1987 as Neil (Niall McNamee) is abducted by Danny Machin, a gangster who wants him to become his biographer. As well as getting to the inner workings of this criminal mind, Neil is also forced to look at his own disasters, most of which are caused by his own stupid decisions.

The set is used fantastically well.  The gangster’s kitchen transforms wonderfully into a rehearsal space and even a record company office. Director, Gordon Anderson, uses every inch.

McNamee is exceptional in his role as Neil. He’s in almost every scene and also has a great voice.  The great thing in being close up to the actors in a theatre like this one, is actually seeing the amount of work and sweat they put into their roles. In bigger theatres, it can be easy to miss out on that. 

Along with Dónal Finn, who plays Neil’s brother Ivan, McNamee shows that yes, they possibly could be in a band and yes, they both can play a guitar.

Hat tip to the sound designer also, I adored the point when the music played moves from house PA to the cassette player in the kitchen. Bravo.

There are quirky and funny little moments throughout Neil’s calamities in Chasing Bono. Machin’s sidekick provides lots. Shane O’Regan is strikingly similar to a young Bono and I would have liked to see a little more of the relationship between McCormick and Bono before U2’s success.

It’s a very enjoyable 90 minutes. There’s music, but it’s not a musical. It’s the story of one man who thought he would rule the music world and one man who did. For McCormick, there’s self confidence and a fall from grace and a seemingly inner calm that comes from accepting who he is towards the end. Everyone loves the underdog.

Chasing Bono runs at the Soho Theatre until January 19th. You can get tickets here.