Reader, I have a dilemma. I want to review The Old Vic’s latest show, hip-hop/soul/funk Suffragette musical Sylvia, for you. But there’s a problem. As I’m sure most readers of a blog like mine will know, this production has not had an easy start in life The performance I was originally going to see was cancelled due to the illness of its leading lady. The one that I did see instead (shout out to the OV box office who were absolute superstars with the rebooking) was therefore not a finished article. And this isn’t my judgement by the way. It’s the judgement of The Old Vic, whose front of house staff were handing out notes before the show apologising that it was: “considerably longer and in a more raw state than the creative team at The Old Vic would ever have planned.” Any blogger with even an ounce of integrity wouldn’t review a performance thus billed.
On the other hand, for all the very evident issues and the fact it ran to a bum-numbing three and a quarter hours, I LOVED THIS SHOW SO MUCH AND I HAVE A LOT OF FEELINGS ABOUT IT THAT I NEED TO DISCUSS.
Or, to put it more sanely: despite everything, Sylvia is one of the best shows I’ve seen this year. So therefore what follows isn’t a review, not really (I’m not going to tell you what the very evident issues were, for a start). It’s just some thoughts, gut reaction, rendered into something slightly more user-friendly than a Twitter thread. It’s the return of the bullet points y’all.
One of the reasons The OV give for the show not being quite where they’d like it to be is that it’s evolved from a dance show into a full-blooded musical and thank God it has. The music, written by Josh Cohen and DJ Walde with punchy lyrics by director/choreographer/BAMF Kate Prince, is an absolute blast. A riotous blend of hip-hop, soul, funk, grime, dancehall and myriad other things, it is just soul lifting to hear.
There are some air punchingly good samples – I almost rushed the stage when a prime ministerial entrance was heralded by a few bars of Dizzee Rascal’s ‘Fix Up Look Sharp’. I demand a cast album and I demand it now.
Kate Prince and Priya Parmar’s book is also kick ass. The story they’ve chosen to tell, of Sylvia Pankhurst rather than the Suffragettes in general, is a clever choice. It’s not a story that I suspect most people know and it’s incredibly interesting and relevant in terms of the focus it puts not just on women’s rights but on poorer women’s rights. Intersectional Feminism: The Musical. The Pankhurst family were much more of a hot mess than I realised. Just saying.Prince’s choreography is brilliant. It’s like watching the best rave you’ve ever seen (and, I rather suspect, in a different theatre it would be an actual rave – I would chop off a limb to see this at The Bush).Ben Stone’s punchy but simple design with Natasha Chivers’ full on party lighting is a sight to behold.This cast is everything. I don’t think I’ve seen a group of performers so committed to having fun with a piece on the stage ever. And they just seem to love each other. You can feel them willing each other to do well. I found this inordinately moving. It’s such a team effort and I absolutely loved it for that. Individuals? Well there’s no one in the business/world with a better voice than Beverley Knight and she is majestic here in a pretty unsympathetic part (which surprised me a bit). Delroy Atkinson’s Winston Churchill is the best Winston Churchill. Jade Hackett basically steals the whole damn show and I have never loved Winston Churchill’s mum more. And huge props to new leading lady Maria Omakinwa who absolutely kills as Sylvia herself in probably the most difficult circumstances a leading lady could face. She’ll go on to gigantic things I have no doubt.I’ve never seen a curtain call like Sylvia’s at The Old Vic (or many other places for that matter). It’s just like five minutes of absolute joy, both from the cast on stage basically having a small party and from the audience who promptly went nuts as soon as the lights went down on the final line. Old Vic audiences are not, in my experience, renowned for their going nuts abilities. This show has really got something.There must be a future for this show beyond its ridiculously short OV run. There just must be. If (when) there’s an extension or a transfer I will see it as many times as my bank balance will permit.If you can, see Sylvia and Misty (currently at The Trafalgar Studios) as a two show day for a small and hopeful glimpse of what British theatre can be when everyone decides to br brave.Seriously though: cast album. Cast album now. Sylvia is at The Old Vic until 22nd September (!!) Grab the last remaining tickets whilst you can.
I paid £10 for a seat in the top circle for this show. However, because my ticket had to be reallocated I ended up sitting in D4 in the dress circle, which would usually cost £28.