‘There’s a heart-warming sincerity to it’: UNEXPECTED JOY – Southwark Playhouse

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

Southwark Playhouse – until 29 September 2018

One way to assess whether we’re getting closer to true equality when it comes to telling LGBT+ stories is when we can safely say that there’s a diversity in those stories. I can fully appreciate why some might feel frustrated at the simple primary colours of this coming-out story, of its (relatively) uncomplicated emotion, but at the same time isn’t it great to see a lesbian take on a mainstream rom-com trope, aimed at the silver pound to boot.

The Joy of Unexpected Joy is a baby-boomer era who is marking the one year anniversary of the death of Jump, her creative and life partner. And as she prepares for a concert celebrating his music, she invites her estranged tele-evangelist daughter and grand-daughter to share in the moment. And also to break the news that she is getting married, to a woman – that’s the unexpected bit, testing the familial bonds between these three generations of women.

Produced by Aria Entertainment at the Southwark Playhouse in conjunction with their From Page To Stage Festival celebrating new musical theatre, this European premiere is something of an irrepressibly cheesy delight. Bill Russell’s book and lyrics may ultimately hold few surprises but along with Janet Hood’s highly melodic score, there’s a heart-warming sincerity to it that gets something prickling at the eyes within its opening few numbers.

Maybe its the comparative rarity of getting to hear female voices harmonise and express themselves like this (Jodie Jacobs’ tightly-wound Rachel is so very good, Kelly Sweeney as her daughter Tamara an impressive debutant). Maybe it’s seeing older women being placed front and centre to finally have their stories told. Maybe it’s the whirlwind that is Melanie Marshall’s Lou whose wicked sense of humour underscores her ferocious lack of tolerance for bigotry. Or maybe its all of this and more.

Yes, Amy Anders Corcoran’s production could have afforded to turn up the chemistry between Lou and Janet Fullerlove’s Joy and yes, there’s an undoubted turn towards the sentimental in the finale. But isn’t it good to be able to sometimes escape the grittiness of reality, to imagine a happy ending for even the most diametrically opposed of political positions? Authenticity isn’t everything.

Running time: 100 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Pamela Raith Photography
Unexpected Joy is booking at Southwark Playhouse until 29th September
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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 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."