Tag Archives: Elliot Gooch

How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying


Southwark Playhouse



How to Succeed

“a highly intelligent musical that lampoons modern ideas of success and ambition”


Just over sixty years ago the musical satire, “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” took Broadway by storm, winning eight Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for best drama. Based on Shepherd Mead’s semi-autobiographical, humorous novel of the same name, it charts the rapid rise of J. Pierrepont Finch up the corporate ladder as he pursues his American Dream. It is inevitable that the office politics and gender assumptions are going to struggle to stand the test of time, but Georgie Rankcom’s exuberant and dynamic staging dismisses any reservations we might have with sheer razzmatazz and inventive risk-taking in the personnel department.

Gender blind casting is nothing new. In fact, it has become a bit of a paradox: the choices these days are nearly always far too deliberate to have been taken ‘blindly’. Discussion aside, it might not always work. But in this case, it adds an essential twist – and much needed sympathy for the principal, self-obsessed characters. Gabrielle Friedman, as the scheming and deceiving Finch, is an endearing mix of opportunism, cynicism and self-deprecation; played with a twinkle as bright as their comic asides are subtle. We can’t fail to be on their side as Finch cheats, lies and manipulates his way to the top. Already at the top is the misanthropic, misogynist company boss, J. B. Biggley. Tracie Bennett grabs the role by the horns and wrestles it into a loveable beast of burlesque parody.

Everything works wonders. And it is refreshing to see that the book and lyrics are an unashamed joke, shared by performers and audience alike. You don’t need a manual to instruct you not to take this too seriously. Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert’s book is charged with shocking wit and pertinent observation, while Frank Loesser’s music and lyrics elevate the piece with a captivating score and libretto. But that’s a sure thing. The real success lies in the staging. Alexzandra Sarmiento’s choreography is as sharp as any knife used by these back-stabbing individuals.

But the acerbity is softened by vulnerability and sensitivity. Allie Daniel in particular, as Finch’s love interest, gives a stunning performance as Rosemary Pilkington, the secretary who yearns for his neglect and would just be “happy to keep his dinner warm”. Daniel embodies comic genius and vocal virtuosity in a powerhouse of a performance. Her comic timing is matched by Elliot Gooch, who deliciously struts with camp abandon as Biggley’s nepotistic nephew intent on revenge. The quality of the singing cuts across the board, each voice given their moment in Loesser’s uplifting score which allows the characterisation to shine through. Grace Kanyamibwa comes into her own during the number ‘Brotherhood of Man’; an uplifting mix of scat and gospel. Nobody steals the limelight as solos merge into duets, into rousing company ensembles. Bennett’s finely tuned, gravelly tones blend lushly in ‘Love from a Heart of Gold’ with the operatic cadences of Annie Aitken, Biggley’s mis-appointed mistress and secretary. Verity Power, Milo McCarthy, Danny Lane, Taylor Bradshaw all stand out, and fall back in line again in what is probably one of the most generous and joyous companies on the London stage.

This is a highly intelligent musical that lampoons modern ideas of success and ambition, and not so modern ideas of a women’s place in the workforce, and old-school mentality. It does so with affection, not for the culprits but for the victims. ‘A Secretary Is Not a Toy’ is simultaneously behind, and ahead, of its time in this production. The aching duet ‘Rosemary’ is timeless, and beautiful. And the humour of the piece is brought out in ‘Coffee Break’, ‘Been a Long Day’ and ‘Paris Original’.

Finch may have used a how-to manual to reach success. Alas, in reality there is no handbook available to create a successful musical. But clearly this company doesn’t need one. The success of this show is pretty much guaranteed. Anyone can see that – without really trying.


Reviewed on 16th May 2023

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Pamela Raith



Previously reviewed at this venue:


Strike! | ★★★★★ | April 2023
The Tragedy Of Macbeth | ★★★★ | March 2023
Smoke | ★★ | February 2023
The Walworth Farce | ★★★ | February 2023
Hamlet | ★★★ | January 2023
Who’s Holiday! | ★★★ | December 2022
Doctor Faustus | ★★★★★ | September 2022
The Prince | ★★★ | September 2022
Tasting Notes | ★★ | July 2022
Evelyn | ★★★ | June 2022


Click here to read all our latest reviews


Once on this Island


Southwark Playhouse

Once on this Island

Once on this Island

Southwark Playhouse

Reviewed – 14th August 2019



“The energy and commitment of the cast is undeniable, as is their pure joy in performing”


Once On This Island is set in the French Antilles, and tells the story of a young peasant girl, Ti Moune, who falls in love with a Frenchman, Daniel, who lives in the grand hotel on the other side of the island. Ti Moune’s love plays out as part of a battle between the gods Papa Ge (the demon of death) and Erzule (the goddess of love) as to who is the strongest, and although Ti Moune ends up cast aside by her lover, in favour of a French noble woman, the gods look kindly on her loyalty to Daniel, and she is reincarnated as a tree, which eventually grows, cracks the hotel gates and allows future generations to live together in harmony. The story is part Romeo and Juliet, part Little Mermaid, and the score is rich in calypso and Caribbean rhythms.

The musical is one of The British Theatre Academy’s summer shows, and, with its nineteen strong cast, Once On This Island is a perfect choice to showcase the talents of its alumni. Lee Proud (director) runs a tight ship, and the production is pacy and professional, with every performer, from the leads to the ensemble, giving their all 100% of the time, which is fantastic to see. The energy and commitment of the cast is undeniable, as is their pure joy in performing. Inevitably, there are weaker links here, but the strength of the collective is such that it doesn’t matter. Similarly, some of the more hackneyed choreography and design choices are glossed over by the brio of the production as a whole.

That said, the high-octane energy could become relentless, and both the production and certain individual performances would have benefitted from a bit more light and shade. This wasn’t helped by the sound, which was deafening. The Southwark Playhouse is a relatively small space, and, although it is now done as a matter of course, this reviewer again questioned the necessity of miking up the performers. The audience is perfectly capable of hearing the singers at such close quarters, and miked-up singing exaggerates an already-present musical theatre stridency in many of the voices. Clarity and vocal strength, however, were on point throughout.

Chrissie Bhima, as Ti Moune, demonstrated terrific tone and control, and made the most of her belters, especially her opening number ‘Waiting for Life’, but the voice of the evening was that of Aviva Tulley, who was masterful throughout and truly came into her own with her showstopper ‘The Human Heart’. Already a subtle, expressive, powerful performer, she is bound to have an exciting future. Credit too to Marie-Anna Caufour for her touching performance as Euralie, Ti Moune’s adopted mother, and to Jonathan Chen for his rousing portrayal of the Earth Mother Asaka.

Once On This Island is not a particularly arresting musical, lyrically, musically or in terms of its story, but it is lots of fun. And this particular production feels like a celebration, full of youthful energy and love. And that really ain’t a bad thing to be a part of on a summer evening.


Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw

Photography by Eliza Wilmot


Once on this Island

Southwark Playhouse until 31st August


Previously reviewed at this venue:
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
The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button | ★★★★★ | May 2019
Afterglow | ★★★½ | June 2019
Fiver | ★★★★ | July 2019


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