Wednesday 30 May 2018

The Rink @ The Southwark Playhouse

The Rink @ The Southwark Playhouse

Kander and Ebb's The Rink may not be the duo's most famous work, but it had a notable start. Its off-Broadway form was directed by Arthur Laurents, who was replaced by A.J. Antoon for the show's Broadway premiere in 1984 that was nominated for four Tony Awards, with Chita Rivera and Liza Minnelli starring in the lead roles. Four years later it arrived in London's West End at the Cambridge Theatre and now finally returns to the Southwark Playhouse.

So how has this musical been forgotten? Reviews at the time were less than positive and the show has since been eclipsed by the likes of Chicago and Cabaret. But the show is a wistful exploration of the past - perhaps three decades later its nostalgia is more palatable.

Its set in a dilapidated skating rink, which set designer Bec Chippendale has imbued with a sense of faded glamour. The floors are scuffed, the paint is peeling, and coloured lights blink on the ceiling. Anna, the owner of the rink, is leaving having sold the site and wishes to move on from her past. Her estranged daughter Angel returns to relive her youth and claim her ownership, forcing the two women to settle their differences.

Caroline O'Connor, having understudied the role of Angel in the Cambridge Theatre production, now returns to play Anna and leads an exceptional cast. Though her diction in the muddled sound levels of the venue isn't always clear, her deep whiskey-soaked jazz voice is perfectly heavy with exhaustion and complex history. That's predominantly an abusive husband played by Stewart Clarke, whose sweet singing belies his masculine struggles. Gemma Sutton plays the young preppy Angel, who balances well her childlike immaturity and New Age feminine power - with a strong vocal to match.

The mother-daughter relationship at the heart of the show doesn't always seem credible, owing to some crass and sometimes harsh dialogue. Anna is perhaps too bitter about the past: a cold, fierce-tongued matriarch whose lines are played for laughs more than believability. Yet the actresses have great chemistry and excel in their individual roles.

Kander & Ebb's score is one of their most varied. Jazz rubs shoulders with wistful bossa nova guitar rhythms and bombastic oom-pah brass, guiding us through the narrative's past and present. Too often the songs are an entertaining diversion from the plot that's ultimately left a little thin, but it does allow for some show stopping tunes, some wonderful skating choreography from Fabian Aloise, and a plethora of comedy cameos from the male ensemble.

Director Adam Lenson handles the narrative shifts through time with clarity, for a revival that explores the idea of home with class, polish, and superb singing. It certainly offers a more sophisticated and intriguing performance than yet another Chicago run.


Watch: The Rink runs at the Southwark Playhouse until 23rd June.

The Rink @ The Southwark Playhouse

The Rink @ The Southwark Playhouse
Photos: Darren Bell