Just for One Day


The Old Vic has a great track record in edgy musicals. Groundhog Day was an unexpected triumph and, a few years earlier, Girl from the North Country was utterly brilliant. So I had pretty high hopes for Just For One Day, the new musical based around the story of Bob Geldof’s 1985 Live Aid show. And, on the musical front, it’s a hands-down winner. The musicians are terrific and positioned mostly (they come down and join the cast occasionally) behind the action on a high gantry. Director Luke Sheppard has thankfully resisted the temptation to make the cast impersonate the original performers and there are some impressive singers giving it their all but in an often refreshing take on the originals.

And what originals – expect an evening of 80s (and earlier) greatest hits: Heroes, Message in a Bottle, Pinball Wizard, Rockin’ All Over the World, I’m Still Standing, Blowin’ in the Wind, Dancing in the Streets, Rebel, Rebel, I Don’t Like Mondays, Bohemian Rhapsody – and that’s less than half of them. So it’s a show clearly that’s all about the music and you can’t fault it: great songs finely performed by an excellent cast that fizzes with energy.

So far, so good. Unfortunately, though, the script doesn’t quite live up to the musical standard here and drags its feet in a slightly queasy love story and lays a heavy hand on the agitprop. Now, there’s no denying there had never been an event like it in showbiz history – combining two live shows either side of the Atlantic with every top music name in the business and seen by 1.9 billion people. And the interesting bit of the story is how Bob Geldof (Craige Els excellent as the gobby Irishman) almost didn’t manage to make it happen, his often calamitous attempts at organisation and his battles with a disbelieving Harvey Goldsmith (Joel Montague convincing as the show’s promoter and with a great voice, too).

Of course, the reason for Live Aid in the first place was to secure funds for the Ethiopian famine or as Geldof would say to the audience (though he denies this throughout the show) “Give us your f***ing money”. It raised £150 million. And this puts the production on the horns of its dilemma. So, on the one hand, there’s Bob genuinely trying to raise the money for starving children and, on the other, the white saviour question being aired both at the time and by today’s standards as seen through the eyes of Gen Z Gemma (Naomi Katiyo). There is no getting round the fact, though, that it worked and the food, the lorries, the grain for the farmers got there because a bunch of millionaire musicians gave up their time for, as the title says, just one day. It couldn’t of course change the world.

The show, though, captures the sense of optimism at the time that maybe it could – its echo ripples through the audience along with the feel-good songs. The Gen Z disapproval of Bob’s white saviour position is somewhat at odds with all this and the audience certainly don’t seem that interested (admittedly, they’re overwhelmingly not Gen Z and many of them are sporting their original Live Aid T-shirts). When Gemma and her friends give their rendition of My Generation swearing they’ll do it better, Geldof glumly observes they’re bound to fail – just in their own way. It’s a salutary observation. What Bob and his mates achieved was extraordinary but today Ethiopia has recently seen yet more war, there are more than 5 million displaced people, 20 million in need of food aid. Like the man said: we can be heroes just for one day.

Just for One Day is on now, until 30th March. For more information, and for tickets, visit www.oldvictheatre.com.

Photos by Manuel Harlan