Just For One Day

The spotlights are on the audience as we enter the theatre. Highly appropriate, since it’s the audience response to the Live Aid Concert in July 1985 that made it the success it was.

Based on real events, Just For One Day, tells the story that led to that momentous concert. The tragic backdrop to the concert was the famine that swept across Ethiopia from 1983. Despite the unimaginable scale of death occurring, the famine went unnoticed until Michael Burke brought the news story to our TV screens in October 1984. Before the days of 24-hour news, this was harrowing viewing, spurring one Sir Bob Geldof into action, first to release the Christmas charity single Do They Know It’s Christmas?, followed by the ambitious concert, performed on two continents, with a global audience of 1.9 billion.

John O’Farrell’s clever story-telling offers three perspectives. Firstly, from Suzanne (Jackie Clune), a record store worker who was ‘actually there’. Together, with Craige Els’ brilliant portrayal of a foul-mouthed Bob, they invite millennial Jemma (Naomi Katiyo) back in time to understand how this concert came about. Although she ‘studied the 1980s in history’ (rude!), she is still shocked by life pre the internet and has to be taught what a cassette tape is! Secondly, where are the audience members, technicians, reporters, music producers and other pop stars who were also ‘there’. Thirdly, to save this being a self-indulgent look at a star-studied concert, the most important perspective is brought through the empathetic characterisation of Amara (Abiona Omonua), a Red Cross volunteer, working in Ethiopia, painting the graphic picture, reminding us why the concert was staged.

Against the tragedy, there are lighter moments allowing the audience to breathe. There is the debate about whether Bob actually shouted ‘give us your ******* money!’ down the camera lens (he insists he didn’t); and a brilliant portrayal of Margaret Thatcher who is given perfect pantomimic villain vibes by Julie Atherton. The battle rap duet between her and Bob ‘Mrs T/Mr G’ has rhythm and rhyme that wouldn’t be out of place in Hamilton!

Speaking of the music, where you might spot a song coming a mile off in other jukebox musicals, here, the stunning 80s soundtrack, featuring songs from the concert, is seamlessly woven into the script, appearing as naturally as the performances themselves, from a brilliant and talented ensemble cast. The power of the harmony is stunning.

Inevitably, and perhaps unavoidably, the story ends back in the modern day with moral questions about how we respond to tragedy. This moment boarders on the ‘preachy’: ‘if we all pull together, things will turn out fine.’ However, this is no glib look at other people’s tragedy. The story challenges us to reflect on modern day scenarios and consider how – or if – we are responding to our fellow humans around the world.

It’s an 80s soundtrack, but with a story that still has resonance today. So, will you heed its message and be a hero, just for one day?

This show was reviewed on the 12th February 2024 and runs at The Old Vic, London until the 30th March 2024. Tickets available here: Just For One Day | Old Vic Theatre

Review written by Ian Worsfold

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Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

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