The thing with global rock stars is you can’t really imagine them being anything other than, well…global rock stars. But even the biggest names were schoolkids once, with childhood friends who were left standing in the shadows. Directed by Gordon Anderson, Chasing Bono is based on Neil McCormick’s ‘I was Bono’s Doppelgänger’ and adapted for the stage by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, who were also responsible for the movie version, although in this adaptation any threat of physical violence, against Bono at least, has been removed.
Music critic for The Telegraph, Neil McCormick always believed he would be famous, and as a teenager he had his whole life mapped out, he dreamed of the gold discs and stadium tours that would follow on from the record deal his band were sure to land. He wasn’t the only one with a band though, school friend Paul Hewson would later change his name to Bono, and U2 would become “Ireland’s biggest export since Guinness.”
Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais have laid out with startling candidness, the mistakes, missed opportunities and sheer arrogance of the young McCormick. It’s refreshing in a way to see no excuses made for McCormick’s behaviour, instead Clement and La Frenais draw upon their wealth of comedy experience to frame the whole story as a kind of kitchen sink sitcom.
They have also taken some liberty with the story, using a fictional kidnapping of McCormick by a well-known Dublin gangster and his bungling sidekick as the catalyst for flashbacks and reminiscences of calamitous life choices. There’s a feel of Martin McDonagh about the production, veering towards the Lieutenant of Inishmore at times, before a guitar appears and we are reminded this story has music at its heart.
Chasing Bono is notable for its strong Irish cast, Niall McNamee plays McCormick with a solid understanding of the task at hand, while Shane O’Regan perfectly captures the essence of Bono without veering in to impersonation. Niamh Bracken and Farzana Dua Elahe, as the only female members of the cast, have slightly under developed roles, but still manage to shine.
Denis Conway uses his experience of McDonagh to nail his gangster role, while Dónal Finn adds a sweetness to the brother, Ivan. Ciarán Dowd brings unwavering comic prowess to his role as the gangster’s crony, employing a superb mix of verbal and physical comedy to broaden the character.
Max Dorey’s design is thoroughly realistic, transporting the audience back to 1987 with authentic props and set design, and the set expands in inventive ways to allow scenes outside the kitchen to be accurately represented.
Chasing Bono is a fantastically revealing comedy, which has the benefit of some real autobiographical writing mixed with a fictional storyline, enabling us to have some fun with the characters. The songs written by McCormick and his brother are given far more prominence than any written by U2, and that’s the way it should be, because it gives us a taste of what could have been, if only things had worked out a little more in Neil McCormick’s favour.