Thursday 7 May 2015

Carrie - Review

Southwark Playhouse, London 


A musical based on the novel by Stephen King
Music by Michael Gore
Lyrics by Dean Pitchford
Book by Lawrence D. Cohen

Kim Criswell and Evelyn Hoskins

Carrie makes its London debut at the Southwark Playhouse. Stephen King's classic horror mixes the recognisably human tale of Carrie White, a schoolgirl teased and shunned by her peers but who discovers, with her late onset of puberty, that she is gifted/cursed with tele-kinetic powers that allow her to make things happen just by willing them. We all know that in life there are few environments more cruel and terrifying than the bully and his gang at school and King's genius was in gifting a young girl with the ability to wreak a murderous revenge upon her wicked tormentors.

The story's horror is gothically graphic and as in any scary tale, our disbelief can only be truly suspended if the trinity of a fine script, excellent stagecraft and perfect acting is achieved. But where Brian de Palma's Oscar nominated 1976 movie succeeded in scaring us witless, the musical treatment falls far short. No one would dare add song and dance to Hitchcock's Psycho or Kubrick's The Shining, so quite what prompted the creative trio (and remember that Lawrence D Cohen wrote the movie's screenplay too) to spawn this show is a mystery in itself. Whilst the songs are immaculately delivered, King's horror has been mercilessly diluted, Pitchford’s lyrics are trite and Gore's tunes quite frankly forgettable.

But...This is a Gary Lloyd show - and with Thriller Live, Lloyd has defined himself as without equal in staging visually stunning (and occasionally spooky) numbers to a rock tempo. It is only a pity that the score does not include more ensemble numbers, for when the Southwark Playhouse floor is packed with his performers the show’s pulse soars, fed by Mark Crossland's powerful 7 piece band.

In the title role, Evelyn Hoskins is simply sensational. Her elfin physique melded with a perfect poise and a haunted demeanour convince us of a girl truly horrified by reaching her menarche at 17. Hoskins convinces us, not only of her pain but also of her supernatural endowments and her voice, especially in the numbers Carrie and Why Not Me is just heavenly (or should that be hellish?).

There is excellence elsewhere too – and were it not for Imelda Staunton’s Momma Rose currently wowing them across the river, then Kim Criswell would steal the award for Most Domineering Mother in a show. Her flame-haired bible bashing creation is a masterpiece of on-stage menace, her acting presence honed to perfection. And oh, what magnificent vocals. Criswell's take on And Eve Was Weak will truly make an audience pray for their salvation, whilst her hymn-like When There’s No-One treated the audience to a voice of cathedral-like magnificence, a quality rarely heard on the Newington Causeway.

Jodie Jacobs puts in a lovely and sympathetic turn as Miss Gardner, the teacher who cares for Carrie, whilst elsewhere quality performers make the best they can of thinly sketched 2-D characters. As the baddy of the piece Gabriella William's blonde and bitchy Chris is all hot pants and hatred, whilst Dex Lee (a newcomer who only recently stunned in The Scottsboro Boys) also sparkles as her schoolboy henchman Billy. Likewise, Sarah McNicholas makes a very decent fist of Sue, the musical's narrator and a role savagely slashed from its movie origins.

Tim McQuillen-Wright's design, all ripped up concrete and Jeremy Chernick's special effects are fun with gimmicks galore, but the company deserve better flying from Foy than was evident on press night. The stage blood flows and if you're sat front row prepare for a light spattering.

The show famously, expensively (and arguably, deservedly) flopped on Broadway nearly 30 years ago and whilst this version is slightly refined, it's still a bleeding piece of meat - albeit one that Paul Taylor-Mills has produced superbly. 

Carrie won't come around very often - and for that reason if you love musicals it's a must see along with being quite possibly the best date-night in town. Unquestionably a period piece, it is perfectly performed and bloody good fun.

Runs until 30th May

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