How could we resist?
One of the most famous musical flops of all time is getting its London premiere 27 years after it first aired at the RSC’s Stratford home. Yes, Carrie The Musical. The one that moved on to Broadway, was swiftly felled and and also went down in another way; in theatrical history.
Phil saw it, so he won’t write about that experience in detail as he’s already recorded it here.
Has considerable reworking of that material improved on what he saw then? In some ways yes. At least we get to see the climactic bloodbath (or should that be bloodshower?) properly now. In the original production the it was represented by red lighting, this time around we got ‘proper’ blood (Merlot Red on the stage blood colour chart). So as you traipse across the stage to get out of the Southwark Playhouse auditorium you’ll leave bloody footprints on the carpets. Andrew’s already planning to send them a cleaning bill for his shoes. Yes, Andrew couldn’t quite resist this one either.
But, by the interval, he was resisting. Resisting going back for the second half that is. It was only Phil persuading him that we were already two-thirds of the way through and that he had to see how that prom night bucket of pig’s blood moment would be executed that dragged him back for more. The man sitting next to us didn’t return.
There was a lot of stage cleaning going on even before it began. Not sure why. After Everyman – which begins with extensive stage mopping – it appears to be this year’s new theatrical trend.
Based on Stephen King’s horror classic about a repressed teenage girl (Evelyn Hopkins) who is bullied by her schoolmates and dominated by her religious nutcase of a mom (Kim Criswell) until she discovers menstruation and telekinetic powers and unleashes them on everyone. The telekinisis that is. If you don’t want to know any more, then beware, there are SPOILERS ahead.
The problem for us is the score (Michael Gore of Fame fame and also brother of Lesley Gore). Large swathes of it is a ghastly shrill rock-heavy assault on the eardrums. Time hasn’t improved it. But even more unforgivable is that the lyrics (Dean Pitchford also Fame) were frequently undecipherable. This may have been a blessing. What we did catch is unlikely to give Sondheim any sleepless nights.
We saw the last preview but that’s no excuse for the sound balance. Even in the quieter numbers we sometimes strained to hear. In one number the performers had to compete against not only the band but a thunderstorm too. But was there a band? If they came on at the curtain call we couldn’t see them as most of the audience were ovating wildly. We remained resolutely in our seats. It would have been inappropriate to rise and encourage them.
Gary Lloyd’s production offers a few compensations. Criswell and Hopkins are splendid in their roles and the scenes between them create some degree of creepy tension. Criswell manages to be be both grotesque yet still strangely vulnerable at moments especially in an Act 2 number that we can’t name as it is, like most of the songs, instantly forgettable. Hopkins is an excellent Carrie, timidly hunched and convincingly put-upon throughout and she also plays a very believable bloodied corpse at the end. Though due to the sightlines you may struggle to see it.
There’s also some stage trickery from Jeremy Chernick which runs the gamut from the somewhat lame (a bookshelf chucking books out) to the effective (a single floating book) and some ‘levitation’ which would be more convincing if the production hadn’t been staged with the audience on three sides of the stage. Where you sit will be governed by how long you’re prepared to queue to get in. It was almost impossible to join the queue which snaked through the foyer and cafe areas. Isn’t it time that the Southwark Playhouse went the way of the Menier and dropped their rather outmoded unreserved seating policy?
Carrie The Musical remains something of a horror after all these years, if not of the kind intended. Andrew – as he attempts to scrape blood off his shoes – will no doubt think the rating too generous. But then he didn’t see the original production.
Phil saw Betty Buckley giving her “I’m Still Here” in Follies in concert at the Royal Albert Hall last week. She played the gym mistress in the original film version of Carrie and went on to take over the Bible-thumping mother role from Barbara Cook when the musical travelled to Broadway. And for the record Anita Dobson and Christine Baranski stole the show even against largely strong competition from Alex Hanson, Ruthie Henshall, Peter Polycarpou, Lorna Luft, Stephanie Powers, Russell Watson, Anita Harris, Roy Hudd, Alistair McGowan and Charlotte Page (Mrs McGowan).