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The Rink: Southwark Playhouse

June 13, 2018


(seen at the afternoon performance on 9th June 2018)

Finally caught up with this show, a mere 30 years after first securing a ticket… for a performance 2 weeks after the original London production at the Cambridge Theatre ended. Back then, I was restricted to school holiday theatregoing… now…

Cutting to the chase, this is one for musical theatre connoisseurs, one of those memorable rewards that those of us who love musical theatre with the depth of an oenophile very, very occasionally receive.

The seaside boardwalk is being torn down. Under the roller-coaster, near Caterpillar and Waterslide, the Antonelli Roller Rink has been sold and the wrecking crew arrives. Anna is off to Florida with Lenny, the current boyfriend, in a half-hour… until 7-year-absent daughter Angel arrives. Demolition is delayed as old times are dragged up and just why the place is both blessing and curse for all is revealed.

It’s a deceptively simple Kander and Ebb, right up there with “Cabaret,” “Kiss of the Spiderwoman and “The Scottsboro Boys” in complexity and hidden meaning. From the “instruction sign” – as much a guide to life as to rink users – to trenchant observations about objects making buildings a home. The importance of such items in family history, and the relationships they engender and sustain, are given intimate dissection. We are all “going around the rink” and it is how, where and with whom that keeps us moving, forward or ‘reverse,’ ‘all skate’ or ‘ladies’ only until ‘intermission’ or ‘clear floor’ are lit.


Caroline O’Connor (Anna) is in overdrive. Mother, schemer, survivor. Each given powerful vocal and choreography (Favian Aloise on major creative form for the whole show) demonstrating skills and experience rarely seen in London.

Gemma Sutton (Angel)  may be the daughter from hell, but her performance too is a remarkable achievement. “Colored Lights” stops the show in the first half, “All The Children In A Row” stops the show again in the second. Her beautifully-judged final revelation and subsequent scenes stop the show (and break the heart) to conclude the story on an unforgettable moment.


The pair don’t have the superlatives sewn up, either. Stewart Clarke (Dino) may be a failure on many levels (particularly moral ones), but he is an actor, singer and dancer of rarest ability. I was lucky enough to be in a seat so close as to be practically taking part in some of his interactions with his wife and daughter – and it was an absolute privilege and thrill to study his work at such close quarters.


With a small cast and many roles, there is no room for ballast, and the team rise to the occasion. Ross Dawes (Lino) gets a beautiful scene as a father rightly angry at the rejection of all he has worked for. Michael Lin (Lucky) not only has a lovely moment at the Prom, but also a lot of skating talent in a joyous ensemble number in the second half – think a budget “Starlight Express” with far more humour. Jason Winter (Tony) and Elander Moore (Benny) also getting nods for some fine work – Winter making a rather good nun, if truth be told.

Ben Redfern (Lenny) deserves special mention. Playing a character at various ages, plus a lovely moment in drag during a show highlight “What Happened to the Old Days,” he is a major reason for the show’s emotional success, the understated yet crucial scale against which decency is measured, frequently difficult to determine in other characters. He makes an excellent reference point.

Bec Chippendale’s dilapidated rink is perfect – the period American feel and aforementioned dilapidated sign board in particular. Extending even under the seating, row A should watch its toes. Joe Bunker keeps the pit band up to scratch and Libby Todd’s costumes deserve a particular note for both the amazingly green trouser-and-pullover ensemble Angel is forced into (I suspect a bet was won) but also coming up with actual personalised dog-tags for Dino, impressive use of the budget on a detail few will notice, but those who do, admire.

Rarely seen, the perfect cast in the perfect show in the perfect theatre with the perfect creative team. No wonder the audience rose as one at the end, and I was proud to say I was one of the first on my feet.

5 stars, standing ovation.

 

Photo credit: Darren Bell. Used by kind permission.

 

2 Comments
  1. Francesca Clementis permalink
    June 13, 2018 8:48 am

    So pleased to hear you loved this as much as I did. We were on our feet as well. I will simply never forget this production. And how they manage to put on such productions with full band and high-calibre cast at such insanely low prices i will never know. I LOVE this place!

    • Steve Rich permalink
      June 13, 2018 9:23 am

      Oh, it was wonderful. Hardly anyone not standing at the end. I don’t know how they do it either – but let’s hope they continue doing so :). Only question I still have is where did they get those trousers?!

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