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Carrie The Musical: Southwark Playhouse

May 20, 2015

(Seen at the afternoon performance on 14th May 2015)

It’s beyond rare for me to take an afternoon off work to see a midweek matinee, but for this, I made an exception. Why? Because I attended the press night of the original show at Stratford Upon Avon all those years ago, and something huge just pulled me back… and I’m delighted that it did.

For this is quite probably as great as this infamous (biggest loss on Broadway for many years) show will ever get. Right venue, right cast, right music, lyric and book, right director, set and costume designers. Yes, it’s the definitive version all right – and an absolute ‘must’ for anyone who calls themselves a musical theatre aficionado. So what did they do this time that just didn’t work in Stratford all those years ago?

The show has been massively re-worked. Many songs replaced, the “Don’t Waste The Moon” drive-in sequence dropped in favour of “A Night We’ll Never Forget,” sad, but the correct choice to drive the story – and thank goodness insane “Pig” is nowhere to be seen. A classroom sequence “Dreamer In Disguise” sets up a better relationship with the second half, and the climax is swifter. Oh, and the ladies no longer shower in their underwear (the entire ludicrous opening sequence is gone), which helps credibility from the off.

It also now works here as this isn’t a show for a refined traditional theatre. It needs the audience on three sides with a scruffy ‘High School’ space in the centre. With director Gary Lloyd’s effective decision to have action taking place even in the aisles, real footage on the kids’ mobile phones and a neat “school corridor” (nice one, Tim McQuillen-Wright) leading us to the auditorium, plus some nice effects by Foy and Jeremy Chernick the scene is well set. Also particularly noteworthy are Ugne Dainiute’s costumes. With prom season here, this is the person to ask. No s**t.

Most of all, though, casting director Will Burton must take the credit for assembling the finest troupe possible.

carrie mother daughter
Kim Criswell is every inch the Broadway star, making Carrie’s mother both monstrous and sympathetic, with a voice and performance outstripping original Barbara Cook.

Daughter and title character Carrie gets an original casting in slight Evelyn Hoskins. Previous choices have all been to portray Carrie as bovine, the dim butt of jokes. Hoskins brings far more to the role. Tiny, clearly intelligent, observant and just waiting to bloom if she knew how, Hoskins has an independence and credibility making her final decision believable, even rational in a way never seen before. With vocal talent to match her acting, this is a triumph.

Around them, supporting characters are faultless. Reliable Jodie Jacobs as Phys. Ed. Teacher Miss Gardner finds humanity with a beautiful rendition of “Unsuspecting Hearts.”

Pairing Sarah McNicholas (Sue Snell) and Greg Miller-Burns (Tommy Ross) is equally inspired. McNicholas had a breakthrough last year as the young Mistress in “Evita” for producer Bill Kenwright in the West End. Here, she throws down her marker as a certain leading lady – the “Wicked” team need to see her for “Elphaba” immediately for a start, for this is an impressive triple. With Miller-Burns, their duet “You Shine” is totally appropriate,

carrie duo boy girl
and Miller-Burns matches her with wonderful sincerity in taking Carrie to the Prom at Sue’s request. If musical sequel spin-offs were possible, “Sue & Tommy” with McNicholas and Miller-Burns should be high on the list.

Gabriella Williams as Chris Hargensen apparently has “Sophie” in the West End “Mamma Mia” lined up after this. It can only be hoped she really is a versatile actor, otherwise Abba fans are going to be surprised to get a “Bitch from Hell” trying to find her father. Joking apart, Williams pulls off the very tricky ‘nasty as a defence’ required to perfection, delivering new song “The World According to Chris” as it should be sung.

In smaller roles, Eddie Myles (Freddy Holt) has a likeable confidence, while Patrick Sullivan and Olly Dobson ( George Dawson / Dale ‘Stoke’ Ullman) will be useful additions to the profession once they complete training, Sullivan has an innate sense of timing worth watching, Dobson a fluid technique. Dex Lee (Billy Nolan) manages to make a dangerous character understandable, while David Habbin’s Mr Stephens will be credible to anyone who has ever tried to teach final year high-school.

For the ladies, Bobbie Little’s Frieda Jason is nicely sassy without caricature and Emily McGougan (Helen Shyres) is not just catwalk stunning in her prom outfit, but moves well too, while Molly McGuire gives follower Norma Watson real definition as a member of the gang.

On the minus side, going back to the original novel and introducing the ‘inquest’ element seems to slow the pace at times, then become lost when it might be needed; and the show’s book crumbles slightly at the end, with a slightly inexplicable conclusion. The biggest issue is also never satisfactorily solved either – simply the lack of lightness. Teenagers laugh, cruelly, yes, but also with great flights of fantasy at times. It’s always been missing in the darkness of “Carrie The Musical” and a little more levity could well heighten the drama.

Within this current production, Dan Samson’s sound design also badly needs tweaking so that the sound comes from the same direction as the cast member singing.

That said, this is a remarkable presentation, and I only wish the West End had somewhere that it could move into, bringing an almost 30 year history to a fitting conclusion and giving these talented youngsters an even greater place to shine.



Photo credits (above top) Evelyn Hoskins as Carrie and Greg Miller-Burns as Tommy; (above below) Kim Criswell as Margaret and Evelyn Hoskins as Carrie. Photos by Claire Bilyard, used by kind permission.


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