Reviewed – 29th May 2018
“The action switches from past to present with alarming frequency but Adam Lenson’s polished direction never leaves us in any doubt as to where we are”
We’ve all had that moment, when having to pack up a room or leave a house; and each possession, as it gets boxed up, can transport us back in time. What should be a straightforward task becomes an extended stroll down memory lane. We know we are squandering hours that could be put to better use, but still relishing every moment. Kander and Ebb’s musical “The Rink” takes this as its central theme and has a similar effect: you feel as though you should be doing something more important yet, within minutes, you are absorbed and let yourself be swept along by the Proustian reminiscences of the lead characters.
Anna is the owner of a dilapidated roller skating rink on the boardwalk of a decaying seaside resort, who has decided to sell it to developers. Her plans are complicated when her estranged daughter, Angel, returns home after a seven-year absence seeking to reconnect with the people and places she left behind and to patch things up with her mother. Through a series of flashbacks and revelations, the two of them deal with their pasts in their attempt to reconcile and move on with their lives. The action switches from past to present with alarming frequency but Adam Lenson’s polished direction never leaves us in any doubt as to where we are.
There is a nod to Sondheim’s “Follies”, though with less depth. Terrence McNally’s book is a somewhat slim affair and so the onus needs to ride on Kander and Ebb’s score and the performances. Caroline O’Connor’s Anna (pronounced ‘Honour’, deliberately or not, in this version with the slightly overdone accents) is a powerhouse of a performance, slipping seamlessly from her acerbic dialogue into stirring song. Gemma Sutton is the perfect foil as the prodigal, rebellious daughter and, as her character’s name suggests, has the voice of an angel.
They both possess the wit and comic timing required for the roles, which is matched by the strong support of the male ensemble. Stewart Clarke is in remarkably fine voice as the wayward, absent husband and father figure, and Ross Dawes as the ‘voice-of-conscience’ grandfather is quite compelling – not to mention his show stopping moves on roller skates. The close-knit cast make Fabian Aloise’s innovative choreography seem easy. Accompanied by a seven-piece band (though sounding like a much fuller orchestra) they skate, dance, laugh, cry and sing through the magnificent, yet seldom revived score. Like the abandoned rink of the title, it has been neglected for too long and this return to the stage is a welcome reminder of Kander and Ebb’s magic.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Darren Bell
Southwark Playhouse until 23rd June
Also by Kander & Ebb