Tag Archives: Southwark Playhouse

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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Oneness
★★★

Southwark Playhouse

Oneness

Oneness

Southwark Playhouse

Reviewed – 5th May 2019

★★★

 

“a talented cast of young female actors delivered a searching show despite a pedestrian script”

 

Very often when watching a play, it’s possible to condense the evening down to one emotion. For Oneness at the Southwark Playhouse, that emotion was anger. Emmanuel Akwafo and Liliana Tavares present a talented cast of four female actors for an hour of furious physicality, dance and theatre.

Where the play is advertised as a study of femininity and being female, it’s far more about how race in Britain intersects with femininity. Each character surges with unhappiness and frustration with how they’re treated because of their race which is challenging and stimulating, although the recurring themes do begin to drag towards the end. Interestingly, each character plays the same leitmotif throughout: the desire not to be questioned about her race, her femininity and her choices.

While the themes confront and stimulate the audience, the writing really doesn’t. At times, the script felt nearly parodic with painfully sincere cliches littered throughout simply stating how each woman is beautiful and strong. Chants of “A woman’s mind is her strength” and “Inside each woman, there is something beautiful” were supposed to be deep and moving, but came over lazy and straightforward.

Unfortunately, the cliches don’t stop there. If you were playing Fringe Theatre Cliche Bingo there were at least two more: masks and torches on a dark stage. Of course, directors have been using masks for thousands of years and no one has a trademark on a flashlight up against your face, but when these techniques are used the same way in each production they lose the cleverness and intrigue that once defined them.

The four young actors are there to catch the script and safely lower it to the ground. Their physicality, precision and commitment shine through the text bringing energy, inventiveness and shear strength. It’s clear that ‘sincere anger’ was the direction for almost every scene (apart from one), but the talented quartet mostly brought their own interpretations and give much needed subtly and fragility, especially during the physical sections.

The set was deeply confusing with the chain link fencing at each end of the traverse stage and the looming cubist painting juxtaposed strangely with almost every scene, setting one’s mind to archival art storage. It was only after, when I realised they were using the set from Other People’s Money which is also currently playing at the Southwark Playhouse, that it made sense.

Hypnotic bass-heavy music and dimmed lights build quickly from the beginning and then return for each piece of dance delivering a sense of consistent frustration left unrealised. The production elements were overall tight and well thought-through which is always rewarding at the Fringe Theatre level.

Taken together, a talented cast of young female actors delivered a searching show despite a pedestrian script often constructed out of feel-good snippets and baseless cliche. The politics were angry and the messages assertive with each of the female characters delivering a red-misted illustration of how race and gender interlock with these individual women.

 

Reviewed by William Nash

 


Oneness

Southwark Playhouse

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
The Sweet Science of Bruising | ★★★★ | October 2018
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

 

Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com