Southwark Playhouse – until 23 June
Reviewed by Claire Roderick
It’s lucky that Southwark Playhouse is relocating, because this magnificent production of the Rink is guaranteed to blow the roof of this building at every performance. Last seen in London nearly 20 years ago, Kander and Ebb’s boardwalk musical is a must see.
Set in a dilapidated roller skating rink in a failing boardwalk community, Anna has sold up and is planning to leave town. As the demolition crew set to work, Anna’s estranged daughter Angel reappears after 7 years and cannot accept the fate of her childhood home. Seemingly lost and rootless, Angel clings to her past and the rink, full of happy but idealised memories of her father. Anna’s memories are more realistic and bittersweet, and she just wants to start afresh. Flashbacks slowly reveal the truth and pain of the women’s lives as they struggle to find common ground. Yes, it’s not exactly action-packed, and every word is designed to emotionally manipulate you, but when it’s Terrence McNally’s gritty and witty book that’s putting you through the ringer, you are more than happy to go along for the ride. Throw in some of Fred Ebb’s bitchiest lyrics, and you’re in musical heaven. Joe Bunker’s band make every note count, but the final minutes are accompanied, not by music, but by the snuffles and sniffles of the audience as the emotional tsunami finally overwhelms.
The show relies on casting two strong leading ladies, and Adam Lenson has hit the double jackpot with Caroline O’Connor and Gemma Sutton as the warring women. Their chemistry is phenomenal, and both give powerhouse performances full of fire and passion but always revealing the underlying sense of loss. The six-strong male ensemble, multi-roling as the demolition team and people from the women’s past, are brilliant. As Dino, Angel’s long-lost father, broken by the Korean War, Stewart Clarke is unforgettable. Seamlessly slipping between playing nuns, teenage thugs or middle-aged women (Ross Dawes and Ben Redfern in the fantastic What Happened To The Old Days?), the ensemble showcases Fabian Aloise’s fantastic choreography, especially in a showstopping performance of The Rink (on roller skates of course) that will make you want to leap from your seat with joy.
This production of The Rink is sheer perfection. This is one of the best shows and best casts I’ve ever seen – grab your ticket, and tissues, NOW.