Janis Joplin: Full Tilt Assembly Checkpoint

A packed house – an everynight occurrence for this show – for the story of a singer who joined the sad ranks of the 27 Club more than 40 years ago stands as testament to the enduring legend of Janis Joplin.

Testament, too, to the power of Peter Arnott’s writing, the quality of the hard-rocking on-stage band, and most of all to the performance of Angela Darcy. It takes bravery indeed to step out in front of an audience and make them believe you’re a legend incarnate, but Darcy pulls it off in front of a hall full of people most of whom were of an age to remember Joplin in her brief and incandescent prime.

An hour of monologue interspersed with some of Janis’s finest songs (and who can listen to Piece of My Heart today without a sense of loss?) would not work, however skilled the actor, if the voice was lacking. And Angela Darcy’s voice lacks nothing, stripping the paint from the walls with a mix of power, control and raw – very raw – emotion.

From her unhappy childhood in Texas through her emergence in California with Big Brother and the Holding Company to the final days with her Full Tilt Boogie Band and her lonely, drugged-up death in a hotel room, Darcy recounts Joplin’s problems as the girl who felt she didn’t fit in anywhere, binging first on food, later on drink and finally on drugs.

It was that feeling of not belonging, of never really being one of whatever crowd she was with that fuelled the pain she expressed through her music, but left her so insecure that she had to create Pearl, the on-stage persona who could do all the things that she felt she could not do as herself. One of her band described her as “always hiding in plain sight”, too scared, perhaps, to stop the life of excess in case there was nothing else there.

And how do you convey all this in an hour? Don’t ask me how, but Darcy does it, leaving an impression of this lost, lonely, frustrating and frustrated woman whose talent was so suddenly lost to us by her sheer ability, not only acting convincingly as Janis, but most importantly, singing convincingly too.
Possibly the toughest job anyone has on this year’s Fringe.

Jim Welsh