Monday, 11 May 2015

Theatre review: Carrie at Southwark Playhouse



©Photo Claire Bilyard

For someone who is such a big scaredy-cat that she has never actually seen a Stephen King movie, attending Carrie at the Southwark Playhouse may have been a peculiar choice, but tack the word "musical" onto anything and I'll be intrigued enough to check it out. This method doesn't always work out, mind, as I have seen some dire shows in my time, but in this instance I discovered a fantastic new production that is going straight into my list of favourite musical experiences.

Carrie was Stephen King's first published novel back in the 1970s, but it is relevant now as it was all those decades ago. The clothes, tech and background music have been updated in this production to give it a contemporary feel, but the story itself is very 21st century as it focuses on an awkward high school girl with a fanatically religious mother who gets relentlessly bullied until all the teasing and nagging comes to an explosive and devastating finale.

With a book by Lawrence D. Cohen, lyrics by Dean Pitchford and music by Michael Gore (the men behind the classic music of 80s hit films Fame and Footloose), the musical made its ill-fated debut in Stratford-Upon-Avon in 1988 and transferred to Broadway that same year before closing after just 21 performances. Nonetheless the show received an Off-Broadway revival in 2012 and now it has returned to England, London no less, bringing its journey full circle. And what a return it is. 

From the opening notes of the toe-tappingly catchy "In" I was enthralled by this production of Carrie. The pop-rock songs gave the show a fun and cheerful feel, not unlike the other high school musical about being different that recently received an Off-West End revival, Loserville, but there was a sinister undertone that became more and more evident as we got to know Carrie (a sincere and captivating performance by Evelyn Hoskins) more intimately, and her newly discovered telekinetic powers were slowly turning her into Matilda's evil twin. 

The entire cast for this production was incredibly strong and their performances were most spine-tingling in the larger group numbers. Even though I didn't know any of the songs before seeing this production, the stand-outs were so catchy and memorable that I'm still humming them days after watching the musical, particularly "The World According to Chris", which lets Gabriella Williams shine in her professional debut, and "A Night We'll Never Forget", which was an equally strong opener to the second act as the previously mentioned "In" was to the first.

Moving from heart-wretching and poignant to intense and terrifying, this is a powerful and thought-provoking production of Carrie the Musical and one that will undoubtedly change the perception of the show from an ill-conceived idea to a surprise hit deserving of a West End transfer.




Carrie is running at the Southwark Playhouse until 30 May 2015. You can buy tickets here.

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