Southwark Playhouse, London – until 23 June 2018
This is a very good production of a rather unmemorable musical. As stories about an argumentative mother and daughter go, The Rink is several farmboys short of the picnic that is Gypsy.
Written in 1984, the score falls into a fallow period for Kander and Ebb, after their early successes like the wit of Chicago or the range of musical styles in Cabaret, and long before their renaissance with Kiss of the Spider Woman and Curtains. The script was written by Terrence McNally – and with the crisp comic timing of leading lady Caroline O’Connor, it’s a pity there’s not more book and fewer forgettable songs.
In Jersey Shore country, Anna Antonelli and daughter Angel are suddenly reunited on the day of Anna’s final disposal of the roller rink which has been the family business. Through flashbacks and recriminations, they scrap and bicker, but eventually and with glucose predictability, reconcile. Sadly you just don’t care enough about their outcomes – and modern audiences don’t sustain the nostalgia for seaside roller rinks they might do for, er, Carousels.
Gemma Sutton is fine as the daughter, expanding on her hippy back-story. And by singing the melodies so beautifully she makes something special of even an ordinary song. O’Connor is an experienced musical comedy star and delivers a grandstand performance, but her talents deserve more challenging material.
Just six guys comprise the rest of the cast and they play every part, male and female, and colour every scene with excellent dancing and singing, the production numbers made more edgy by the varied shapes and sizes of the gang.
Stewart Clarke neatly defines the character of Anna’s ex-husband Dino, Jason Winter looks like Jesus with a blow dry but commands attention in the dance routines, Ben Redfern joins O’Connor as a mumsy old lady in a song about their memories, and another where as the character Lenny, her longtime fallback friend, he proposes. It’s both sweetly done and very sweetly sung.
Adam Lenson’s direction is tight, he manages the all-cast-on-stage motif nicely, and choreography by Fabian Aloise is also good, but you end up marvelling how he did it in such a tight space, rather than celebrating excellence or originality. The roller-skating routine is splendid, and miles away from Starlight Express. You wonder how many of them could skate before the show.
For 25 quid, though, it’s the best value show in town.