Covering the Mod movement from its heyday all the way until its decline and transformation into the hippie era, All or Nothing charts the rise of the Small Faces and its temperamental frontman Steve Marriott. A musical rock biopic in the vein of Buddy or the other nostalgic rock spectaculars, All or Nothing has a firm understanding of what its audience has come to see.
The biggest thing that sets All or Nothing apart from a great many rock biopics is having the action narrated and reflected over by an older nominally-dead Steve Marriott, played by Chris Simmons. The device isn’t itself hugely innovative but the through-line taken is surprisingly critical of Marriott. His younger self is depicted as a cocky cockney git from the start who becomes increasingly beholden to his monstrous ego; his latter day self is boozy and bitter, whose once keen attention to fashion and presentation become increasingly dishevelled as the performance goes on. It was a bit of a surprise to see the play stray so much from a standard hagiography, even if the plot is the same as every rock biopic about young men who fly high and then burn out.
The actual narrative is lacking in one respect in that it has not got a consistent central theme. All or Nothing is absolutely centred on Marriott but it flits about different aspects of his life rather than making one the sole focus to gain insight into his character. The drama starts out on the dynamic with his mother, whilst his older self keeps reflecting on his relationship with guitarist Ronnie Lane, segments follow on the key women in his life, then allusions to his later collaboration with Peter Frampton, and lastly we hurtle back to the relationship with his mother. We certainly get a good overview of events but the older Marriot narrator has to crib us up on developments which we don’t see unfold or get follow through on. It’s a sprawling rather than keenly focused affair.
That doesn’t recognise the central appeal here though. The intent of Carol Harrison’s love letter to the Mod era is to recreate the mood and spirit of the mid-60s and keep the stream of classic Small Faces songs coming. On both these counts, All or Nothing is dedicated and successful. A supreme amount of credit needs to go to Samuel Pope for his very well-observed channelling of Marriott’s on- and off-stage idiosyncracies, not to mention his ability to emulate the frontman’s notoriously powerful singing voice. All the performers excel in recreating how the band bopped and moved on stage.
Though a touch sprawling and suffering from the occasion scratchy mic, All or Nothing offers an entertaining and bombastic performance. ★★★★☆ Fenton Coulthurst 26th July 2017