Tag Archives: Jez Unwin



Southwark Playhouse Borough

CABLE STREET at Southwark Playhouse Borough


“a good effort to remind the audience of the power of the people against malevolent political forces”

It’s not often that you get a musical written about your old street. As a previous resident of one of the roads leading off Cable Street, I’ve passed by the large mural commemorating the 1936 Battle of Cable Street numerous times without looking deeply into this symbol of mass resistance to fascism.

Now, in the model of Hamilton or Operation Mincemeat, writers Alex Kanefsky (book) and Tim Gilvin (music and lyrics) have pulled together a reflective show that uses song and dance to surface this lesser-known historic event. As in Hamilton, the music reflects a variety of cultures, with hip hop references layered on top of Jewish and Irish musical references. As in Operation Mincemeat, the fascists get arguably the best song.

For those who were not paying attention to their interwar British history, the Battle of Cable Street is so named after the road on which a patchwork army of Jewish, Irish, Socialist and Trade Union groups held back thousands of Oswald Moseley’s British Union of Fascists set on marching through what was then a predominantly Jewish area of East London. The musical interpretation uses the story of three families to explore just some of the hundreds of thousands in the motley coalition. The Battle of Cable Street has since become known as the day that fascism in Britain was defeated, and prevented it ever gaining a political hold on the country.

The show is framed by a modern day East End walking tour recounting this history, with an overbearing tourist from New York asking questions about her mother, once a local. This walking tour pops up in several scenes, either interrupting the events playing out in 1936, or contrasting with rival (and rather tasteless) Jack the Ripper tours that stomp the same cobbled streets.



If the stories of three families and two warring walking tours sounds like a few too many strands, you might be correct. At times the compact performance space of the Southwark Playhouse felt a little cramped; this worked well when presenting about the claustrophobic housing, and less so when trying to follow contrasting narratives. Actors playing instruments on stage to accompany the semi-concealed band also contributed to the cluttering of the space. Aoife Mac Namara’s fiddle made sense in the numbers with a gaelic undertone, but the electric guitar felt out of place.

The central playing space is surrounded on three sides by seating, with the back wall covered with haphazard wired and wooden fencing. On stage is a large bureau, two desks and chairs pushed against the back. These are regularly repositioned to create the different scenes, with the simplicity working well. On the whole, the set (Yoav Segal) and props were used effectively, except a very obviously homemade horse head used to represent a police cavalry came across as more Blue Peter than War Horse.

Of the 1936 events, Sha Dessi as Mairead Kenny, daughter of an Irish immigrant, drives the show forward with strong vocals and resolute determination. Dessi’s character has to balance fervent revolutionary zeal with a laundry list of responsibilities. She meets and falls for Sammy Scheinberg (Joshua Ginsberg), the rapping son of Jewish family living close who is struggling to find work. Similarly, Ron Williams (Danny Colligan) is a northerner from Lancashire who is also failing to find any work, but unlike Sammy who gets influenced by Mairead into coming along to communist meetings, Ron falls into the fascist embrace.

The ensemble cast was stuffed with talent, with supporting actors contending with multiple character changes. Debbie Chazen as the visiting New Yorker, Mairead’s Irish mother, and also a bumbling police officer was a standout, as was Jade Johnson whose solo Stranger / Sister was performed with sensitivity and power. Sophia Ragavelas who leads one of the strongest songs in the show – a rousing No Pasaran in the model of Les Miserables barricade scene – was also a highlight.

There are many things that work well with Cable Street, though ultimately it neither gets the high tension and deep emotion of Hamilton, or the tongue in cheek hilarity of Mincemeat. The ending is unsatisfactory – with a rush of events that threaten to derail the entire show and saved by the unveiling of a man who we already know isn’t dead. As a small point, the modern day East End is not well represented – there’s only one mention of the Bangladeshi community in passing (a 1978 murder) who have contributed so much to the area in the past 50 years.

Given the current political environment and rise of antisemitism across the UK, this is a good effort to remind the audience of the power of the people against malevolent political forces, featuring a strong selection of upbeat musical numbers. However, a little more restraint from director Adam Lenson, or a pruning of the dense narratives might have helped tell this important story a little better.

CABLE STREET at Southwark Playhouse Borough

Reviewed on 26th February 2024

by Rosie Thomas

Photography by Jane Hobson




Previously reviewed at Southwark Playhouse venues:

BEFORE AFTER | ★★★ | February 2024
AFTERGLOW | ★★★★ | January 2024
LIZZIE | ★★★ | November 2023
MANIC STREET CREATURE | ★★★★ | October 2023
THE CHANGELING | ★★★½ | October 2023
RIDE | ★★★ | July 2023
HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS … | ★★★★★ | May 2023
STRIKE! | ★★★★★ | April 2023
THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH | ★★★★ | March 2023
SMOKE | ★★ | February 2023



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The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe


Gillian Lynne Theatre


The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

Gillian Lynne Theatre

Reviewed – 28th July 2022



“Samantha Womack’s ice-queen witch stops short of caricature to give a cool, sassy and sexy performance”


The temptation to litter this review of “The Lion Witch and the Wardrobe” with spoilers is almost impossible to resist. Except that the protectors of the ‘Magic Circle’ would soon come knocking. Needless to say, Michael Fentiman’s stage adaptation is, in plain language, truly magical. Literally, emotionally and visually. Escapism personified.

We enter a war-torn Britain circa 1940. A lone pianist is gradually joined by the full ensemble while the melancholic strains of ‘We’ll Meet Again’ crescendo in beautiful harmony. This in turn gives way to the blitz and the exodus of London’s child population. Among the throng are Peter, Edmund, Susan and Lucy Pevensie, who are whisked away to Aberdeen and the forbidding, country house of the eccentric Professor Kirke. You know the rest – besides which, the title says it all.

Fentiman’s unique stamp is visible from the outset, with the cast comprising actor-musicians that conjure echoes of his ‘Amélie the Musical’; with soaring notes of Cirque du Soleil and knowing winks to Emma Rice. Throw in a touch of ‘Wonderville’ and the picture is complete. Tom Paris’ outstanding costume, with Toby Olié’s puppetry, are not just the icing on the cake, but crucial ingredients; as are Jack Knowles lighting, and the shattering soundscape provided by Ian Dickinson and Gareth Tucker. Although it cannot quite be described as a musical, Benji Bower’s and Barnaby Race’s score runs through it, frequently bursting into full blown choral numbers, around which choreographer Shannelle ‘Tali’ Fergus has staged some beautifully poetic, stylised and devilishly stylish movement.

As always, it is tempting to over-read the allegories. But the story does resonate particularly vibrantly now in its celebration of the coming together of individuals to overcome the darkest of winters. Narnia has been frozen for the past hundred years by the White Witch (Samantha Womack). Delainey Hayles’ Lucy is the first to stumble through the wardrobe into the forbidding kingdom, before persuading her siblings (Ammar Duffus, Shaka Kalokoh and Robyn Sinclair) to ‘believe’ in Narnia and join her. Can they overcome the usurper witch and restore the rightful ruler – the Christlike Aslan?

Well, we all know the answer. But it is the journey that leads us there that is the crux. Jez Unwin’s Mr Tumnus is the first to dole out lessons in betrayal and forgiveness, while the glorious pair – Julian Hoult as Mr Beaver and Christina Tedders as Mrs Beaver – dish out their unique blend of comic relief. Chris Jared, disconnected from the imposing puppet, is the impressive and magisterial voice of the lion, Aslan, while Samantha Womack’s ice-queen witch stops short of caricature to give a cool, sassy and sexy performance. The ensemble stops short of upstaging the protagonists, instead surrounding, infiltrating and complimenting the action with perfect precision and timing.

The story is timeless, a quality reflected in the fantastical nature of this staging. It transcends the family show boundaries often imposed on this genre of theatre. There has to be a sufficient amount of darkness for light to banish it. We’ve been through some pretty shadowy times of late, but it serves to magnify the hope and redemption we grasp afterwards. “The Lion Witch and the Wardrobe” is a show that exemplifies that. And it throws in all the eccentricities of life too.

Escape through the wardrobe and watch with an open mind. That way you will let all the wonder in.



Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Brinkhoff-Moegenburg


The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

Gillian Lynne Theatre until 8th January 2023


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Cinderella | ★★★★★ | August 2021


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