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Review: Just For One Day - The Live Aid Musical (Old Vic)

Review by Daz Gale




One of the most legendary concerts in music history is the subject of a new jukebox musical as Live Aid musical Just For One Day enjoys its world premiere at The Old Vic. Perhaps not the most obvious of subjects to make a musical about, nor the most obvious of theatres for it to premiere in, but there was something intriguing and quite a bit exciting about this production. The question is would it be able to live up to the legacy of its subject matter?

Just in case you’re unaware of what Live Aid actually was, it was a huge event in July 1985 where the biggest artists of a generation gathered to perform two simultaneous concerts in London and Philadelphia broadcast live to the world. Spearheaded by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure, the concerts set out to raise money for the famines in Ethiopia. Just For One Day recounts the story of that legendary day and the events that led up to it, but perhaps not in the way you might expect.


Just For One Day attempts to shift the narrative to play out the unseen stories. Aside from Bob Geldof (Craige Els) and Midge Ure (Jack Shalloo), the remainder of the cast plays a range of diverse characters ranging from the person who was conceived at Live Aid, the person who bought a ticket to be there and the people who worked behind the scenes to make it happen. This allows for multiple narratives to take place, allowing us to flesh out the inspiration and meaning behind the event, and the impact it still has nearly 40 years later. This inspired approach to the story is incredibly refreshing as it would have been easy to fill the show with stars like David Bowie, Freddie Mercury, and Phil Collins. Instead, their songs are performed but by actors who are never trying to be the performer, simply giving a tribute to them while retaining their own sense of self.

Written by John O’Farrell, the book for Just For One Day is incredibly rich and nuanced. Starting on the day of the concert before travelling back a year to see how the idea was conceived including the recording of the classic ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ before a second act focuses on the run-up to the concert and the show itself gives plenty of areas to delve into and discover unexpected treats. Bob Geldof’s story is a big part of the show with a detailed characterisation full of comedy and no shortage of obscenity, but it is the other stories that prove more intriguing as we fall in love with characters we didn’t know existed. Blurring the lines between fact and fiction while still retaining the integrity and purpose of the event is a hard balance to achieve but O’Farrell’s ingenious writing nails this flawlessly full of heart, humour, and a powerful theme that is always present. A particularly inspired touch sees cast members explaining the story and significance of the event to the younger generation, namely Jemma (Naomi Katiyo) in a clever way to speak to multiple generations of theatregoers, some of whom will doubtlessly relate to her.


Luke Sheppard’s direction wows at every turn with no shortage of inspired choices, all of which land with precision. The attention to detail here is meticulous and pays off beautifully with every scene coming alive, no matter how big or small it is. The huge variance in styles through the show creates an always exciting and nearly exhausting multitude of elements, all of which segue together seamlessly under Sheppard’s immaculate direction. The key to the success here is in the creative elements all tying together to create one clear and cohesive mission. Similar to the way Live Aid and the charity singles that preceded it encouraged artists to leave their egos at the door, this carries the same feeling in a show that is very clearly been a collaborative effort and one where every creative is very much on the same page.

The show is stunning to witness in terms of all the visual elements with Soutra Gilmour’s set effortlessly transitioning from the heart of the concert to the smaller and diverse settings before it took place. Andrzej Goulding’s video and animation lift the show to create some truly stimulating sequences, with Howard Hudson’s lighting perfectly recreating the huge concert feel when needed. With all of these flawless elements playing out, it is down to Ebony Molina’s choreography to fill the stage, always thrilling with its grand and complex choices.


Music is obviously a very key part of Just For One Day, but it can’t be stated enough just how phenomenal the music here is. With some of the most well-regarded and biggest-selling songs of all time at its disposal, expectations were set high for how they could faithfully deliver these – safe to say, they absolutely smashed it. Featuring the songs performed at the concerts on the day, Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, The Who’s ‘My Generation’ and David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ (where the show’s title comes from) are just some of the timeless numbers on offer. It’s the musical arrangements and orchestration by Matthew Brind that really blows you away, however. Several of the songs are spliced together faultlessly in several truly amazing arrangements while other songs are stripped back to really get to the heart of the lyrics. Again, the key words here are attention to detail as the careful thought that has gone into every song and how best to convey it on stage is astounding to watch. A special mention must also go to Gareth Owen for his clear and perfect sound design.

Some of the musical highlights include a rousing ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ whose unique arrangement is incredibly powerful – a similar feeling you get after a particularly deep and resonating performance of The Police’s ‘Message In A Bottle’. From the opening number ‘Heroes’ to the closing number ‘Let It Be’, each song is carefully placed, never feeling random or cringeworthy as sometimes is the case. Using each song’s lyrics and message to further the story along is a testament to the painstaking way this show has been crafted.


Featuring a cast of 20, what is admirable about Just For One Day is what an ensemble piece this really is. Each cast member gets a chance to shine in their own right, no matter how big or small their part is. Craige Els is a joy to behold as Bob Geldof, tapping into the parts of his personality that have transcended the decades and creating a character with moments of comedy gold, though never making light of the important mission. Though you have to wait until Act 2 to really see him shine, Joel Montague makes up for lost time with a storming portrayal of Harvey Goldsmith, while Danielle Steers once again delights with her unmistakeable vocals as the no-nonsense Marsha.

Jackie Clune takes on more of a narration role as the older version of Suzanne, while Hope Kenna gets one of the most memorable performances of the show as her younger version, with her zest for life completely infectious. Olly Dobson commands the stage in his role as John with Jack Shalloo displaying some stunning vocals as Midge. Abiona Omonua gets some of the more heartfelt moments in the show as Amara as she reminds us of the severe circumstances that led to the creation of Live Aid.


In an unexpected turn of events, one of the standout performances belonged to Margaret Thatcher, played by the always wonderful Julie Atherton. Think the Queen in Diana The Musical and you get the idea – a truly hilarious portrayal, I’ll never be able to listen to Elton John the same way again. As I mentioned before, this truly is an ensemble show and it would be remiss of me to leave out any of the tremendous cast: Jason Battersby, Ashley Campbell, Joe Edgar, Jo Foster, Collette Guitart, James Hameed, Naomi Katiyo, Freddie Love, Emily Ooi, Tamara Tare and Rhys Wilkinson were all mind-blowingly good – not a weak link in the cast and one of the strongest ensemble casts I have ever seen.

Taking an event like Live Aid and turning it into a coherent and cohesive musical feels like something that would be very unlikely to get right. However, Just For One Day is living proof of what can be achieved when you have the right people involved, all with the same mission. The end result is a truly flawless and immeasurably creative piece of theatre. I always say theatre at its best has the ability to make you feel, with any show that ends having battered your emotions among the most powerful things theatre can do. This musical makes you feel from start to finish, never giving you the time to catch your breath. The amount of heart and this show has can rarely be matched.


There are only so many superlatives you can use to describe Just For One Day and none of them would quite do the show justice. Having gotten the tone just right, the best word I can use to describe this show is perfect. Honestly, there is not a single thing I could fault about this fantastic show. From the writing, direction, music, all the production elements, and its world-class cast, this really is as good as it gets. It may only be at The Old Vic for a short while but I’d be shocked if we don’t see this return for an open-ended run somewhere. It really feels like a new classic has been born with this musical – completely accessible to those who love jukebox musicals and those who don’t as well as people who inexplicably may not even like musical theatre! The show really is that sensational.

We may only be in February but Just For One Day is a strong contender for the best musical of the year. It certainly sets the bar high for others to try to match. Don’t take my word for it though - to quote Bob Geldof (or not, as it turns out), give this show your f***ing money and get a ticket. You won’t regret it!

Just For One Day plays at The Old Vic until 30th March. Tickets from


Photos by Manuel Harlan


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