With this show, Collette Cooper proves that pub theatres can provide an impressively immersive night out, complete with pre- and post-show entertainment. The 60’s “summer of love” vibe takes the audience back in time and creates an unforgettable, live concert experience, mixed with raw, emotional storytelling. It’s like watching Janis Joplin’s life unfold in front of your eyes – but you don’t just watch it, you get to participate in it too.
Old Red Lion is based in Angel and has staged several productions of all kinds of topics – from American contemporary drama about having kids (or not) to sad stories about teenage suicide. The auditorium above the pub is quite old, with a set bench seating, which doesn’t allow for much change in terms of space. Or at least that’s what I thought till now.
The team behind “Tomorrow may be my last” completely changed the space and turned it into a full-on hippie area, with 3 separate sections, namely a live band performance area, a “backstage” area for Joplin and an audience interaction area. Walls are covered with hippie paintings and a big space for trippy video projections that made me feel a little bit like I smoked something. Even the distinctive pub theatre smell is somehow masked by incense sticks. It’s the first time that I’ve seen a pub theatre invest so much into a transformation like this – but it was worth it, as the surprise factor itself is worth paying a visit to see the show.
“Tomorrow may be my last” embraces the feel of an immersive experience – but delicately. Something I generally really dislike, like dragging audience members onto the stage or making them read lines – is luckily not included here (phew!). Instead, if you feel like having some interactions with Joplin, make sure you sit in the front row, and you might get an occasional compliment or even a backstage pass handed to you.
But wherever you sit, sooner or later you will become Janis’ group of backup singers – especially in the show’s title song, where the audience is split into sections and each group is tasked to sing a different line together.
It’s immersive and interactive, but definitely without the cringe, and because it’s a group interaction, you are ok to sit the singing out, if that’s your choice.
You will for sure get welcomed by one of 2 “hippies” are you enter, and will even be offered some joints or LSD. Play along or not – the interaction is not overwhelming or pushy, but rather just something to talk about with fellow audience members as you wait for the show to start.
The live band, composed of 3 brilliant musicians, hangs out by the back of the stage, and switches between playing fantastic, energetic arrangements for Cooper to sing to, and just sitting there quietly, observing Cooper, but without interacting with her in any way.
The show has the 60s vibe through and through, including lots of alcohol and some nudity on stage. Cooper, as she creates and develops her striking one-woman monologue through the show, speaks not to the audience, but to the Southern Comfort whiskey bottle, her faithful friend. The friend who stayed with Joplin not just during the amazing “celebrity” moments, but also after the stage lights were down and the room was quiet. And that’s the saddest factor of the show. Because all in all, Cooper portrays Joplin as a girl who oozes self-confidence and power on the stage but at the same time holds many insecurities within her. These are highlighted by reappearing multiple times, shouts of bullies from her school, and calling her fat and ugly.
It’s fun to participate in Joplin’s concert from Woodstock, wave a glow stick and sing at the top of your lungs. But my heart just broke, seeing how another member of “The 27 Club” suffered from loneliness every time she left the stage. Cooper switches between the two emotional sides of Joplin instantly. She speaks like her, ending almost every sentence with the classic “man” and addressing Joplin’s fans as “Kittens” (listen to an interview with Joplin and you’ll see how well the script is written to resemble the singer’s style of speaking). She talks about free love but also falling in love with a man, who then just broke her heart. She doesn’t just play Joplin, she becomes her for a good 1.5 hours.
“Tomorrow may be my last” is not just a simple celebrity story. It’s a much more complex monologue, touching on the politics of the ’60s, the racial issues, apartheid, and fighting for peace and love. It is, also – an emotional study of how, in a crowd full of compliments and hugs, it’s easy to feel lonely. In this way, the performance reminded me of the 2022 Baz Luhrmann movie about Elvis, where The King himself went through that extreme kind of experience, that ultimately also led to his death.
“Tomorrow may be my last” will play at the Old Red Lion for the next 3 months. It’s such a fantastic occasion to grab a friend, come to the pub earlier to enjoy the pre-show, grab a whiskey cocktail and immerse yourself in the experience. Whether you’re a Joplin fan, or just keen to experience a heartbreaking story of loneliness, this show will have an impact. I guarantee.
Tomorrow May Be My Last
by Collette Cooper
Dates: Tuesday 14th February – Saturday 6th May 2023
Old Red Lion Theatre, 418 St John Street, London EC1V 4NJ
Tickets are available from £15 – £25 including a complimentary
Southern Comfort cocktail and post-show music at certain shows
Photo credit to all show’s visuals: Robin Pope