Underbelly Festival Southbank
Reviewed – 13th May 2019
“personal, enchanting and all rather marvellous”
It’s not often that you get to see some of the leading lights of theatre and musical theatre in an intimate cabaret setting. On Reflection is a rare opportunity to do so, and it is a great experience. Janie Dee, who played Phylis in the National Theatre’s triumphant production of Follies, has brought together some of the stars of the show to share personal experiences and songs in the intimate setting of Underbelly’s Spiegeltent.
Having seen Follies a few days previously, just before it closed, it was fascinating to see the closeness and friendship between the cast. Dee’s idea to stage this cabaret style show was inspired by the theme of reflection and the connection between past and future that runs through Follies. She asked some of her fellow actors if they would be willing to share a personal story and a song, reflecting on something from their own past. Taking part in this show is a way for them to fill the void left by the end of Follies, keeping some of the company together for a while.
Each actor had brought a photo; themselves as a baby, a loved one who had passed away, something that meant something deep or funny. They told their stories, and sang their songs, weaving an evening full of feeling; sadness, nostalgia, love and hilarity. Aimee Hodnett regaled the audience with her total failure when auditioning for Cats, and attempting to stand out from the crowd in not the wisest manner! She then had everyone in stitches with her rendition of ‘The Girl in 14G.’ Adrian Grove moved people to tears with his story of his father’s dementia, and how sometimes he would know him, and sometimes not. He sang a beautiful duet with Ian McLarnon.
Alyn Hawke took us back to the golden age of musical movies with a medley of his childhood idols, Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, and Vanessa Fisher belted out an inspiring version of Des’ree’s ‘You Gotta Be’. There were so many outstanding stories and songs. Janie Dee talked about how she was warned off taking a musical theatre job by her agent, because ‘nobody would take her seriously as an actress’. They were wrong. She was spotted in the show by Sir Peter Hall and asked to work with him at the National Theatre. She danced, charmed us all and ended the evening by introducing Stefan Bednacyk, the pianist, and inviting all the performers on stage. Josh Seymour directed the show, allowing everything to seem spontaneous, and to be truly heartfelt. The evening was personal, enchanting and all rather marvellous.
Reviewed by Katre
Underbelly Festival Southbank until 16th May
Previously reviewed at this venue:
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