Southwark Playhouse , London
March 18 2012
Music and Lyrics: Adam Guettel
Book: Tina Landau
Director: Derek Bond
Deep below platform 1 of London Bridge Station, the Vault at the Southwark Playhouse, has again yawned open to reveal a theatrical gem. Floyd Collins tells the fascinating tale from 1925 of the caver of that name. Trapped underground following a rockfall, Collins could still be reached and contacted by those who climbed down to attempt his rescue. That connection provided a conduit for the caver’s hopes and fears to be brought to the surface, and as the days of his entrapment passed, so the media interest in him grew. Collins’ father's farm in Edmonson County , Kentucky, became the first ever site for a media “circus” as radio, press, and newsreel cameramen sought to broadcast the sensational events playing out deep underground. Such was the interest in Collins’ plight that President Coolidge himself was kept informed.
Tina Landau and Adam Guettel have set this slice of American history to music, where it was first performed off-Broadway in 1996. De-constructing the legendary tale of Collins, their musical is structured around a close observation of the people whose lives were caught up in these events.
As Collins, Glenn Carter clearly has the physique and vigour of a man who earns his living exploring caves. By simply climbing over, and wriggling through and around, the simplest of ladders and boxes , he transports us to the “Indiana Jones” type world, deep underground, that he loves. When the rock-fall occurs, staged by the use of sound and the clever movement of fellow cast members, it is quite simply Carter's exceptional acting that screams at us terrifyingly that here is a man, trapped, quite possibly for life. Carter’s voice is also a delight, and his transition from youthful gusty optimism and vigour, to troubled fear and grim realisation, is beautifully performed.
Robyn North plays Nellie, Floyd’s sister. A character that is complex and fragile, recently having been discharged from an asylum and whose love for her brother is clearly deep, possibly too deep. North’s performance is enchanting, and her performance of Through The Mountain is both moving and passionate. Her failure to comprehend the cynical media razzmatazz, when all that she simply wishes is her brother’s safe return, is touchingly performed.
Ryan Sampson also delivers a great performance. As Skeets Miller a local cub reporter, whose diminutive physique enables him to squeeze through the cave to bring succour and comfort to Collins, his reporting of the events were to win him a Pulitzer Prize. Sampson’s journey from intrusive hack to hero is well brought to life.
The show’s design by James Perkins fully exploits the depth and architecture of the Vault, the ancient railway arches almost naturally evoking the Kentucky catacombs.
The 8 piece band are excellent under Tim Jackson’s direction, with banjo and harmonica lending a subtle air of authenticity. A minor fault, but three weeks into the run and with the benefit of microphones and clever modern technology, the sound balance should by now be excellent. It was therefore frustrating that solo male voices were often inaudible above the music.
The show is unquestionably a triumph, and should be seen. A moving piece of theatre in which director Derek Bond has coaxed excellence from every member of his talented company. Oh, and in the opinion of the wives in our party, Glenn Carter is gorgeous!
Plays untlil March 31st