Thursday 8 September 2011

Parade @ Southwark Playhouse

Jason Robert Brown probably isn't a well known name for many West End theatre-goers.  But for the more discerning musical theatre afficionados, his music has become a holy grail.  And with productions like this - in the dim, musty vaults of the Southwark Playhouse - it's easy to see why.

Parade is a piece of high drama told through the medium of music and song.  Its intense and emotional narrative has a real earnestness that has become disassiociated with musical theatre in this day and age, what with the rise of the pop/jukebox musical.  Brown takes the genre back to its core - plot and music.  And with its themes of racism and prejudice in the deep south of America, it takes the audience to dark and harrowing places rarely explored.

What really impressed with this production was its fluidity.  By utilising traverse staging, it enabled the scenes to segue from one to the next with natural flow.  Moreover, the music of the show grows organically out of the drama and this extended to the cast who glided effortlesly from script to song and acted through the songs with admirable consistancy of tone and American accents.  The theatrical space of the vaults lent itself to the show, simultaneously allowing the expansive music to breathe and emphasising the intimacy of the piece, in addition to heightening the industrial feel of the setting.  The lighting, from either side of the traverse, was high contrast - the stage was equally hot with summer sun and cold with the chill of a jail cell, silhouettes used for great dramatic effect.  At times, the balance between the singers and the orchestra was off, but this was predominantly due to the acoustics of the space, notoriously difficult to perform in.

So what of the music?  Brown's score is stunning and here its sensitivity and emotion was played to perfection.  The cast excelled across the board, without a single weak link, each singing effortlessly yet with every fibre of their bodies.  From the quiet fragility of Leo's Hard To Speak My Heart to Lucille's resentful You Don't Know This Man, the solo numbers brought a tear to the eye.  Neck hairs shivered during the chorus numbers, each member of the cast singing in crystal clear harmony.  The cast was brimming with fresh talent, though Alastair Brookshaw's awkward, fidgeting Leo and Laura Pitt-Pulford's compelling portrayal of Lucille dominated the stage. 

Forget the shallow glitz and glamour of the West End, this production of Parade is a raw and powerful jewel in the realm of musical theatre