Tag Archives: Southwark Playhouse

Working at Southwark Playhouse

20 Jun

Working – a song cycle giving a glimpse into the life of ordinary working people in America – opened at Southwark Playhouse for a strictly limited run earlier this month. The basis for this collection of mini stories are interviews conducted in the 1970s. Add Stephen Schwartz and Lin-Manuel Miranda (amongst others) to the mix and you have a pretty solid basis for a stellar show.

Working features a cast of six established musical theatre performers: Peter Polycarpou, Dean Chisnall, Liam Tamne, Krysten Cummings, Siubhan Harrison and Gillian Bevan. They are joined by six new drama school graduates who are making their professional debuts in this production.


There is no weak link in the cast and everyone on stage gets the chance to shine. I was particularly impressed by Peter Polycarpou’s “Fathers and Sons” and Dean Chisnall’s “Brother Tucker”. I also have to mention Gillian Bevan’s showstopping number about life as a waitress and Liam Tamne’s superb comic timing both as a delivery man and a call center agent. And special mention for Dean Chisnall’s appearance as both a golfer and a UPS man. Every scene, no matter how short, is a small highlight and I left the show with a big smile on my face because I knew I had just witnessed something very special.


In this show you will find stories of teachers and construction workers, of waitresses and truck drivers, of firemen and housewives – Working gives America’s working community a voice. It tells the audience about their struggles, their hopes, their fears and their dreams.


With a dazzling mix of musical styles and gripping choreography by Fabian Aloise this is a show that manages the leap between a relevant message and an entertaining night out. Working feels raw and real and beautifully honest.


Working is running at Southwark Playhouse until July 8th 2017. For more info and to book tickets visit http://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/show/working/.

In the Heights at Southwark Playhouse

28 May

In the Heights was one of the shows I watched on my trip to Broadway back in 2009. I remember having really high expectations after hearing nothing but praise for the show and ending up being slightly disappointed. Whilst I loved the amazing dance scenes in the show the story left me somewhat cold and I didn’t feel any connection with the characters.


So this time I was prepared for 2 hours of great dancing and some nice songs but nothing more – talk about putting your expectation at the lowest possible level! What I certainly didn’t expect was a production that is so full of energy and so intoxicating it almost swept me off my feet (or better: my seat). And now I finally get what makes In the Heights so special, what I have missed out on when I saw the show on Broadway. This intimate production at Southwark Playhouse is in my eyes superior to the Original Broadway production. Drew McOnie’s slick choreography is nothing but amazing and the cast – a mix of West End favourites and new faces – tells the story of Usnavi, Vanessa, Nina and the rest of the people in the neighbourhood with such passion, you can’t help but feel connected to everyone on stage.


Sam Mackay is mesmerising as Usnavi – he made me laugh and he made me cry. Emma Kingston is a wonderful Vanessa and Christina Modestou is just as brilliant as Nina. Victoria Hamilton-Barritt (once again) plays the feisty character with a good heart and (once again) she is a joy to watch. David Bedella gives a solid performance as Kevin while Josie Benson (Camilla) receives one of the biggest rounds of applause for her solo song in act two. A special mention goes to Jonny Labey as Graffitti Pete – I couldn’t take my eyes off him whenever he started to dance. This young man sure has a big career ahead of him.


I cannot praise this production enough. It is wonderful to see how much heart and soul everyone has been put into this show. In the Heights is a tale of life, love, friendship and hope and an example of what you can achieve when you believe in yourself and don’t give up.


The show is running at Southwark Playhouse until 7th June 2014. The rest of the run is sold out but there is a chance of return tickets and I urge everyone to try and get their hands on a ticket. This is one of those rare opportunities to see a show that has it all – great songs, brilliant dancing, the most amazing voices,a story that – while not extremely deep – will engage you emotionally and a through and through fantastic cast.

For more info check out http://www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk .

Mack and Mabel at the Southwark Playhouse – July 12th 2012

14 Jul

The Southwark Playhouse has proven to be one of London’s top addresses for high quality fringe theatre with shows like Parade and Floyd Collins. Their latest musical theatre production is Mack and Mabel, a show that tells the relationship between Hollywood director Mack Sennett and Mabel Normand who became one of his biggest stars in the late 1910s.

Music and lyrics for this show were written by Jerry Herman and the book by Michael Stewart, revised by Francine Pascal. The original 1974 Broadway production starred Bernadette Peters and Robert Preston and received eight Tony Award nominations.

The Vault is a former railway tunnel which has been transformed into a unique and atmospheric performing space. And while I can’t imagine watching a feel-good and happy show in there, the place is perfect for a show that does well with a gloomy or melancholic setting.

I really like the U-Shape staging they’ve done for this show. But I’d definitely choose the centre rows over the rows on either side of the performing area as I guess the view might be slightly restricted on the sides.


The only real downside of this theatre are the ridiculously uncomfortable seats and the slightly damp air which makes concentrating on the show a slight challenge after a while.

Norman Bowman is stepping into the role of movie director Mack Sennett. His portrayal is intense and gripping and had me on the edge of my seat throughout the show. Mack certainly is no character that vows himself into the audience’s hearts. He’s driven by his passion for making movies and it’s hard for him to accept that there might be something else in life that is more important. Norman’s Mack seems almost haunted by his one and only ambition: To make people laugh. The fact that someone who seems unable to love and who is simply not very likeable is so dedicated to bringing people joy with his movies is one of the features of Mack that I found most interesting. And despite all that, Norman manages to make me feel for Mack who slowly realises that he actually does love Mabel but is unable to properly express his feelings until it’s too late.


Laura Pitt-Pulford gives an outstanding performance as Mabel Normand, the sandwich delivery girl who becomes a movie star. She brings out a vulnerability in Mabel that makes it impossible not to love her. I especially liked the on stage chemistry between her and Norman. Those two work exceptionally well together.

The third stand out performance in this show is definitely Stuart Matthew Price as Frank Capra. He manages to really shine in a part that could be drowned out by the two leads if played by an actor with just an average stage presence. Just one minor grudge: I wish he would get to sing more – it’s a shame to “waste” such a beautiful voice.

The rest of the performers are without exception perfectly cast. There is no weak link on stage (except for a rather rebellious egg). It was good to see Steven Serlin again – Saturday Night Fever seems like ages ago! And big thumbs up for Jessica Martin. Her facial expressions during the silent movie scenes were hilarious and I generally loved her portrayal of Lottie Ames.


Mack and Mabel is yet another example for a high class fringe show that doesn’t have to hide behind the big West End productions. With a fantastic cast, a lovely score (“I won’t send roses” has to be one of the most beautiful and truthful love songs ever written) and a small yet very effective set.

As for the story itself: I think it’s a well told romance between two people who couldn’t be more different when it comes to their ideas of a relationship. My only criticism would be that the whole story is slightly obvious from the start. You can guess how the show is going to end pretty easily after the first few minutes. This one has the “no happy ending” stamp printed all over its cover.
But that didn’t spoil my enjoyment of Mack and Mabel. I had a wonderful time and can’t recommend this show enough. Please do consider watching this one over one of the big West End musicals and show your support for fringe theatre. You won’t be disappointed.

For more info and to book tickets go to http://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/the-vault/mack-and-mabel/

Photos by http://www.annabelverephotography.com

Floyd Collins at the Southwark Playhouse – March 10th 2012 (matinee)

20 Mar

I first visited the Southwark Playhouse last year to watch their production of Jason Robert Brown’s Parade. One thing I remember from that visit is thinking what an unusual yet interesting performing space this venue is. And I admit I was doubtful there were a lot of shows that would fit into this theatre due to it being a rather dark and gloomy place. 


However, it is exactly the nature of this unusual theatre that makes Floyd Collins even more gripping and “enjoyable” (that doesn’t seem to be the right word for such a dark piece I admit).

Ladders are used to create the tunnels and caves – a simple yet effective way to take the audience along to the world below. The dark and cold vaults of the Southwark Playhouse are the most perfect space for this show and really add to the atmosphere.

The show itself is definitely not an easy piece of theatre. It’s the story of caver Floyd Collins who is trapped deep below ground and who’s personal tragedy is turned into a nationwide sensation by the media.

I found the score a bit hard to get into yet interesting and beautiful in its own way. Sadly the lyrics were a bit drowned out by the music from time to time.


This was the third show I have seen Glenn Carter in (the former being Jersey Boys and The Exonerated) and I really enjoyed his performance. His singing was impressive and I did feel for his Floyd. He gets extra points for having to lay on the cold floor of the vaults for the majority of the show – that must be one of the most uncomfortable parts he’s ever played.


However, the real stand out in this show is without a doubt Ryan Sampson’s Skeets Miller. I have rarely seen such an honest and heartfelt performance. Ryan Sampson is definitely someone I will look out for in the future.


The rest of the cast all did well but there was no real highlight I have to say (I might just have been too mesmerised by Ryan Sampson’s performance to notice though). I couldn’t really connect to Robyn North’s Nellie and sadly I found Gareth Chart’s Homer a bit bland compared to Glenn Carter’s and especially Ryan Sampson’ performance.


So, this show is by no means perfect but (and that’s a big but) it is definitely one not to miss. Why, you ask? Because it’s unusual, it’s something you might not get the chance to see on stage again for a long time and because the cast have obviously working hard to bring this story to life.


One very important advice though: Wear layers when you go and see the show. I attended Floyd Collins on a rather nice spring day and I was freezing by the end of the performance – it’s cold in the vaults!


Floyd Collins is running at the Southwark Playhouse until March 31st. For more info and to book tickets go to http://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/the-vault/floyd-collins/

Parade at the Southwark Playhouse

20 Sep

It’s hard to sum up the emotional rollercoaster that is Jason Robert Brown’s Parade. The show has you laughing the one moment and leaves you in deep shock just a minute later. I still regret missing out on the Donmar Warehouse production a few years ago so when I heard that the Southwark Playhouse was putting on Parade I jumped at the chance.

And yes, the fact that the lovely Simon Bailey was to be in it also helped with the decision to book.The Vault – as the venue is called – is quite an unusual yet interesting performing space. You are literally in a tunnel with the audience being lined up in 4 rows on either side of it and the stage being in the middle (like a walkway). I’d never seen anything like it before but really enjoyed the way the show was staged.


For everyone that doesn’t know Parade (but seriously, where have you been all your life? It’s a masterpiece!), the show tells the true story of Leo Frank, a Jewish factory manager from Brroklyn, who is accused of the rape and murder of 13 year old employee Mary Phagan and ends up being lynched by a mob. Parade shows a real-life miscarriage of justice and paints a disturbing picture of intolerance and corruption.


The cast were amazing and I mean all of them. There wasn’t a weak link and I was once again reminded that I need to go and see more fringe theatre. The quality you get to see in fringe shows is amazing and something several West End shows definitely lack. Special mention for Alastair Brookshaw who’s portrayal of Leo Frank left me with tears in my eyes. The same applies to Laura Pitt-Pulford who gave a stunning performance as Leo’s wife Lucille. Samuel J Weir who has just graduated from Arts Ed in July 2011 is definitely someone to watch out for in the future. Amazing vocals and a really strong performance as Young Soldier / Frankie Epps. Marc Inscoe who I had last seen in Priscilla – Queen of the desert really impressed me with his gripping portrayal of the prosecutor Hugh Dorsey.

Full Cast
Kelly Agbowu: Essie
Simon Bailey: Off. Starnes / Tom Watson
Jessica Bastick-Vines: Lila / Mary Phagan
Alastair Brookshaw: Leo Frank
Michael Cotton: Off. Ivey / Luther Rosser
Terry Doe: Newt Lee / Jim Conley / Riley
Natalie Green: Monteen
David Haydn: Governor Slaton / Britt Craig / Mr. Peavey
Marc Inscoe: Hugh Dorsey
Abiona Omanua: Minnie McKnight / Angela
Laura Pitt-Pulford: Lucille Frank
Philip Rham: Old Soldier / Judge Roan
Samantha Seager: Mrs. Phagan / Sally Slaton
Victoria Serra: Iola Stover
Samuel J Weir: Young Soldier / Frankie Epps


I do admit I was quite shocked by the really disturbing banner you got to see in the end. Since the show has finished it’s run I’m not spoiling anything by saying it was a picture of the real Leo Frank – hanged. It worked well, I can say that. But personally I found it hard to impossible to look at the picture that was left hanging until the end of the show which ment I had to walk past it when leaving the auditorium.

I generally love Jason Robert Brown’s work. Seeing Songs for a new world in a tiny space on a ship in Hamburg still is one of the highlights of my theatre life. And Parade definitely is a show every supporter of the arts needs to watch at least once. It’s moving, it has a brilliant score and it has meaning which is something you don’t get in many of the popular musicals these days.

So finally, I’d like to thank the whole cast for such an outstanding performance of a brilliant piece of musical theatre. Everyone obviously put their heart and soul into this show and it was a real honour to witness musical theatre at its best. Thank you!