Tag Archives: Jethro Compton

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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Review of White Fang – 2.5 Stars


White Fang

Park Theatre

Reviewed – 14th December 2017


“Imagination is lacking with the staging as considering this is meant to be up a mountain, it all feels very flat”


White Fang, written and directed by Jethro Compton, is the story of Lizbet, a young Native American girl and her wolf. She is a cold and courageous hunter navigating her outcast place in a society set against her.

The ensemble cast are strong, however the play is predictable in narrative and dramatic clichés. The puppetry has potential but I fear I have been spoilt by seeing Gyre and Gimble’s wolf in The Grinning Man, which is designed and controlled with more characterisation. The stage is also too small for the puppet when accompanied by two puppeteers.

The fierce female friendship between Lizbet (Mariska Ariya) and Curly (Bebe Sanders) is mistaken for love in this story and the romantic elements of the characters’ relationship feel forced. Although they kiss, they do not ever embrace, even facing the threat of death. Sanders is talented but the character is given no back story at all, and the audience know nothing about her except her apparent fondness for Lizbet.

The text includes some witty lines – ‘Learn to drink; or learn to drink less’ and the show is accompanied by beautifully lyrical songs (Gavin Whitworth) with intricate harmonies (lovely bass from Paul Alberton). Lighting is nicely done (Julian McCready) and hints at the vast coldness of the Canadian wilderness. Some sound effects (Juan Coolio) are overly synthetic in the space, particularly the whistling wind and wolves howling off-stage.

The set of the cabin (Jethro Compton) is a stark and bare refuge from the cold that fits the purpose for the indoor action. However, it is so large that only a tiny portion of the stage is left in front for all the outdoor scenes. The noisy brown curtains do not do justice to the landscapes of the programme, and the lack of space and levels mean a huge amount of action (particularly on the floor) is completely lost on me, despite my best neck-craning. Imagination is lacking with the staging as considering this is meant to be up a mountain, it all feels very flat. Just a little height would go a long way.

I hope the company are given the means to expand the play to better portray its surroundings. It needs a stage triple the size and height, with snow and ice to really portray the ‘arctic black’. It would make a wonderful outdoor show, connecting us with the cruel winter it currently struggles to present on-stage. Snow was disappointingly absent, particularly as it is present through all the programme images.

White Fang has promise but the staging unfortunately lets it down.


Reviewed by TheatreFox

Photography by Jethro Compton



White Fang

is at the Park Theatre until 13th January 2018



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