Tag Archives: Chi-San Howard

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Southwark Playhouse

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Southwark Playhouse

Reviewed – 17th May 2019



“a thoroughly fascinating, moving and evocative piece of theatre”


Written in 1922 by F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is just one of many short stories that comprise his “Tales of the Jazz Age” collection; though undoubtedly one of the better-known. Fitzgerald was inspired by Mark Twain who lamented the fact that the best part of life came at the beginning and the worst part at the end. Fitzgerald tried to turn this idea on its head, but instead discovered that youth and old age are mirrors of each other. A witty and insightful satire it tells the story of Benjamin Button who is born an old man and mysteriously begins ageing backwards. At the beginning of his life he is withered and worn, but as he continues to grow younger he embraces life, falls in love, goes to war, has children, goes to school and eventually, as his mind begins to devolve again, returns to the care of his nurses.

A difficult tale to categorise, but at its heart it is a fantasy. A fairy-tale. A love story underpinned by a mysterious curse. Writer Jethro Compton with composer Darren Clark have embraced that heart and transplanted it into a Cornish folk tale to produce a thoroughly fascinating, moving and evocative piece of theatre. The story is told in a time-honoured fashion by the five characters, washed up on the rugged Cornish coast. And the music emerges naturally from the ebb and flow of the narrative as though one cannot exist without the other. This extends to the five cast – all master story tellers and multi-instrumentalists – who perform, move, act and sing together as one. You can hear it in their harmonies which are breathtakingly beautiful.

Whatever liberties have been taken with Fitzgerald’s story, in my mind, only improve on the original. Spanning most of the twentieth century, the epic structure fits perfectly into the small-town Cornish setting. This is ‘Under Milk Wood’ meets ‘Sliding Doors’ as we are shown how the smallest chain of events can change a life irrevocably – for better or for worse. The show is a conjuring trick where seventy years are crammed into two hours and over forty characters into the five actors onstage. With Chi-San Howard’s choreography it is a master class in dexterity.

When not behind the piano, guitar, accordion, drum kit, Matthew Burns and Joey Hickman have the lion’s share of the roles. Meanwhile, James Marlowe completely nails the unenviable task of portraying Benjamin Button reversing from sixty to twenty with an outstanding performance (the very old and the very young Benjamin are puppets forged from the flotsam and jetsam of the Cornish beach). Like a broken clock that tells the right time twice a day, he finds true love twice in his life. With the same person: Philippa Hogg and Rosalind Ford play respectively (among a myriad other characters of course) the young Elowen, whom he marries and the older Elowen with whom he is reunited; and it is these two who steal the show and provide the most haunting and beautiful moments. And with Ford’s cello, Hogg’s violin and their combined voices, I defy anyone to remain dry eyed throughout the evening.

This is quite a sensational piece of musical theatre that takes a curious tale and adds its very own eccentricities. The only minor quibble is that it is just a bit too long, but that said, the magic sustains from start to finish. Or from finish to start, whichever way you want to look at it.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography courtesy Jethro Compton Productions


The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Southwark Playhouse until 8th June


Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
The Trench | ★★★ | October 2018
Seussical The Musical | ★★★★ | November 2018
The Funeral Director | ★★★★★ | November 2018
The Night Before Christmas | ★★★ | November 2018
Aspects of Love | ★★★★ | January 2019
All In A Row | ★★ | February 2019
Billy Bishop Goes To War | ★★★ | March 2019
The Rubenstein Kiss | ★★★★★ | March 2019
Other People’s Money | ★★★ | April 2019
Oneness | ★★★ | May 2019


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Bury the Dead – 4 Stars

Bury the Dead

Bury the Dead

Finborough Theatre

Reviewed – 1st November 2018


“Rafaella Marcus’ direction is precise and ambitious, creating distance and momentum with high energy movement and rapid scene changes”


It has been eighty years since ‘Bury The Dead’, the overnight hit that kick-started American writer Irwin Shaw’s startling career, was last performed in Britain and time has been kind to this remarkable and effective First World War play.

Two unnamed soldiers are burying their recent dead when the impossible happens: the dead soldiers stand up and refuse to be buried. The press get wind of it and the generals, fearing the effect on morale, send in the soldiers’ wives, mothers and sisters to talk them into dying peacefully and laying back down in the earth.

Shaw exploits this simple device to ask vital and ever-relevant questions about how war and those that die for their country are remembered. These dead soldiers fight against the notion that “war is only won when the dead are buried and forgotten”, forcing the world to confront not just the horrors of past wars, but the human sacrifice of present ones. Forgetting is not an option. Shaw avoids memorialising and glorifying, opting instead to show intimate scenes between dead soldier and loved one. The message is to remember but not romanticise. Private Dean’s mother runs screaming from the stage when she sees her sons shell-mutilated face. Confrontation might help ease her suffering. Either way, ‘Bury The Dead’ opens the debate on memorialisation and its responsibility to question as well as record.

Verity Johnson creates a foggy, evocative set using the audience to form the boundaries of a trench filled with dirt and bordered by black crates. Rafaella Marcus’ direction is precise and ambitious, creating distance and momentum with high energy movement and rapid scene changes, building expert montages that seem refreshing after long scenes of dialogue. Sioned Jones is compelling in every scene she is in and offers a beguiling performance that tackles multiple roles with ease and attentiveness. She’s matched by Luke Dale, Liam Harkins and Scott Westwood who seem so at ease in their characters and honest that their scenes together and in isolation are thrilling to watch.

Atmospheric and thought-provoking, this production tackles big themes in a tiny space. War is claustrophobic, trench warfare especially, and this feeling is evoked masterfully throughout, breaking only in the final moments when the dead win the day. Gone but not forgotten; remembered for who they were not what they fought for. War is anything but glorious in this vital, compelling, must-see production.


Reviewed by Joseph Prestwich

Photography by Scott Rylander


Bury the Dead

Finborough Theatre until 24th November


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Imaginationship | ★★ | January 2018
Into the Numbers | ★★★★ | January 2018
Booby’s Bay | ★★★★ | February 2018
Cyril’s Success | ★★★ | February 2018
Checkpoint Chana | ★★★★ | March 2018
Returning to Haifa | ★★★★ | March 2018
White Guy on the Bus | ★★★★ | March 2018
Gracie | ★★★★ | April 2018
Masterpieces | ★★ | April 2018
Break of Noon | ★½ | May 2018
The Biograph Girl | ★★★ | May 2018
Finishing the Picture | ★★★★ | June 2018
But it Still Goes on | ★★★★ | July 2018
Homos, or Everyone in America | ★★★★ | August 2018
A Winning Hazard | ★★★★ | September 2018
Square Rounds | ★★★ | September 2018
A Funny Thing Happened … | ★★★★ | October 2018


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