‘Musical theatre of the highest degree’: THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON – Southwark Playhouse

In London theatre, Musicals, Opinion, Reviews by Ian FosterLeave a Comment

Southwark Playhouse, London – until 8 June 2019

Jethro Compton has made me cry before. At the Southwark Playhouse too no less, albeit in its former location, as a young JM Barrie in a truly imaginative staging of The Boy James. This time though, he’s wearing the multiple hats of book-writer, co-lyricist and director of this adaptation of the F Scott Fitzgerald short story The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. And reader, I bawled!

Some of those tears were of joy, at the unexpected discovery of a sensationally good new British musical. With the story’s relocation to Cornwall, Darren Clarke’s (composer, co-lyricist and musical director) score leans heavily into folk song and shanty rhythms to glorious effect. These are songs that feel like they have always existed, elevated by powerful dynamic changes and harmonies to live a life in reverse for.

And Compton amps up the timeless feel of a fable by using an actor-muso ensemble of five – Matt Burns, Rosalind Ford, Joey Hickman, Philippa Hogg and James Marlowe – to tell the story and boy are they stunningly good. They take on multiple roles, play multiple instruments, and break our hearts in multiple ways as they spare us little of the deep emotion of the story of a man who ages backward due to a quirk of fate, but who slowly resolves to live that life to the fullest.

The impact on his family is what reaches inside you and literally squeezes those tears out, time and again. But there’s humour here too, a balance of light and shade that alchemises into something truly affecting. Schönlatern’s atmospheric and inventive set design is playful and perfectly judged, as it cultivates the intimacy of a night down the pub rather than ever feeling staged, even when puppets get involved. Musical theatre of the highest degree.

 

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Ian Foster
Since 2003, Ian Foster has been writing reviews of plays, sometimes with a critical element, on his blog Ought to Be Clowns, which has been listed as one of the UK's Top Ten Theatre Blogs by Lastminute.com, Vuelio and Superbreak. He averages more than 350+ shows a year. He says: "Call me a reviewer, a critic or a blogger, and you will apparently put someone or other's nose out of joint! So take it or leave it, essentially this is my theatrical diary, recording everything I go to see at the theatre in London and beyond, and venturing a little into the worlds of music and film/TV where theatrical connections can be made."
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Ian Foster on FacebookIan Foster on RssIan Foster on Twitter
Ian Foster
Since 2003, Ian Foster has been writing reviews of plays, sometimes with a critical element, on his blog Ought to Be Clowns, which has been listed as one of the UK's Top Ten Theatre Blogs by Lastminute.com, Vuelio and Superbreak. He averages more than 350+ shows a year. He says: "Call me a reviewer, a critic or a blogger, and you will apparently put someone or other's nose out of joint! So take it or leave it, essentially this is my theatrical diary, recording everything I go to see at the theatre in London and beyond, and venturing a little into the worlds of music and film/TV where theatrical connections can be made."

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