Southwark Playhouse Borough

CABLE STREET at Southwark Playhouse Borough


“a good effort to remind the audience of the power of the people against malevolent political forces”

It’s not often that you get a musical written about your old street. As a previous resident of one of the roads leading off Cable Street, I’ve passed by the large mural commemorating the 1936 Battle of Cable Street numerous times without looking deeply into this symbol of mass resistance to fascism.

Now, in the model of Hamilton or Operation Mincemeat, writers Alex Kanefsky (book) and Tim Gilvin (music and lyrics) have pulled together a reflective show that uses song and dance to surface this lesser-known historic event. As in Hamilton, the music reflects a variety of cultures, with hip hop references layered on top of Jewish and Irish musical references. As in Operation Mincemeat, the fascists get arguably the best song.

For those who were not paying attention to their interwar British history, the Battle of Cable Street is so named after the road on which a patchwork army of Jewish, Irish, Socialist and Trade Union groups held back thousands of Oswald Moseley’s British Union of Fascists set on marching through what was then a predominantly Jewish area of East London. The musical interpretation uses the story of three families to explore just some of the hundreds of thousands in the motley coalition. The Battle of Cable Street has since become known as the day that fascism in Britain was defeated, and prevented it ever gaining a political hold on the country.

The show is framed by a modern day East End walking tour recounting this history, with an overbearing tourist from New York asking questions about her mother, once a local. This walking tour pops up in several scenes, either interrupting the events playing out in 1936, or contrasting with rival (and rather tasteless) Jack the Ripper tours that stomp the same cobbled streets.



If the stories of three families and two warring walking tours sounds like a few too many strands, you might be correct. At times the compact performance space of the Southwark Playhouse felt a little cramped; this worked well when presenting about the claustrophobic housing, and less so when trying to follow contrasting narratives. Actors playing instruments on stage to accompany the semi-concealed band also contributed to the cluttering of the space. Aoife Mac Namara’s fiddle made sense in the numbers with a gaelic undertone, but the electric guitar felt out of place.

The central playing space is surrounded on three sides by seating, with the back wall covered with haphazard wired and wooden fencing. On stage is a large bureau, two desks and chairs pushed against the back. These are regularly repositioned to create the different scenes, with the simplicity working well. On the whole, the set (Yoav Segal) and props were used effectively, except a very obviously homemade horse head used to represent a police cavalry came across as more Blue Peter than War Horse.

Of the 1936 events, Sha Dessi as Mairead Kenny, daughter of an Irish immigrant, drives the show forward with strong vocals and resolute determination. Dessi’s character has to balance fervent revolutionary zeal with a laundry list of responsibilities. She meets and falls for Sammy Scheinberg (Joshua Ginsberg), the rapping son of Jewish family living close who is struggling to find work. Similarly, Ron Williams (Danny Colligan) is a northerner from Lancashire who is also failing to find any work, but unlike Sammy who gets influenced by Mairead into coming along to communist meetings, Ron falls into the fascist embrace.

The ensemble cast was stuffed with talent, with supporting actors contending with multiple character changes. Debbie Chazen as the visiting New Yorker, Mairead’s Irish mother, and also a bumbling police officer was a standout, as was Jade Johnson whose solo Stranger / Sister was performed with sensitivity and power. Sophia Ragavelas who leads one of the strongest songs in the show – a rousing No Pasaran in the model of Les Miserables barricade scene – was also a highlight.

There are many things that work well with Cable Street, though ultimately it neither gets the high tension and deep emotion of Hamilton, or the tongue in cheek hilarity of Mincemeat. The ending is unsatisfactory – with a rush of events that threaten to derail the entire show and saved by the unveiling of a man who we already know isn’t dead. As a small point, the modern day East End is not well represented – there’s only one mention of the Bangladeshi community in passing (a 1978 murder) who have contributed so much to the area in the past 50 years.

Given the current political environment and rise of antisemitism across the UK, this is a good effort to remind the audience of the power of the people against malevolent political forces, featuring a strong selection of upbeat musical numbers. However, a little more restraint from director Adam Lenson, or a pruning of the dense narratives might have helped tell this important story a little better.

CABLE STREET at Southwark Playhouse Borough

Reviewed on 26th February 2024

by Rosie Thomas

Photography by Jane Hobson




Previously reviewed at Southwark Playhouse venues:

BEFORE AFTER | ★★★ | February 2024
AFTERGLOW | ★★★★ | January 2024
LIZZIE | ★★★ | November 2023
MANIC STREET CREATURE | ★★★★ | October 2023
THE CHANGELING | ★★★½ | October 2023
RIDE | ★★★ | July 2023
HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS … | ★★★★★ | May 2023
STRIKE! | ★★★★★ | April 2023
THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH | ★★★★ | March 2023
SMOKE | ★★ | February 2023



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