Back in 1986, and fresh from a financially lucrative co-production with Cameron Mackintosh – a little known show whittled from a doorstep of a French novel called Les Miserables – the RSC teamed up with the German producer Friedrich Kurtz to stage a show in Stratford by three American’s, based on an American film, itself based on Stephen King’s small-town-America-set supernatural horror novel, Carrie.
Lawrence D Cohen, who wrote the show’s book had a pedigree, having also penned the film of Carrie, and Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford between them could boast not only the music for the original film of Fame, but also Footloose, both of which had been immensely financially successful.
There was some expectation then that when Carrie opened on Broadway at the beginning of the 1988-9 season, having played sold-out business with universally rotten reviews in Stratford, that the public would vote with their feet and make it a Tony-Award winning hit.
Alas, that was not to be. The show had fifteen official previews, and opened on May 12th 1988. Sadly, it closed just five performances later, losing something in the region of $8Million, and becoming a legend in terms of theatrical flops.
The team behind it decided that with re-writes there might just be a successful show in there trying to get out, and in the Spring of 2012 the re-conceived and re-written Carrie opened for a limited off-Broadway engagement which spawned a cast recording in the Autumn of that year.
It is essentially this version of the show which is currently playing at Southwark Playhouse.
So? Is it any good? In a word… no. Though there is an awful lot to commend this very polished production, more of which to come.
The problem with the show itself lies, as ever, with the book.
The lead character, the titular Carrie (a suitable downtrodden Evelyn Hoskins), is a naïve miserable whelp with an overbearing mad religious mother (Kim Criswell who sounds gorgeous, but is wearing far too much make up, and a selection of costumes which don’t actually suggest that she’s as religious as she is).
Carrie falls apart when she starts having her period in the showers at school and gets picked on. The high school seniors plot against her. Pig blood gets poured over her by the (actually rather interesting) kids who don’t like her and she goes home to seek solace in the arms of her mad religious mother who murders her.
So far so good, except…This is what might be called a doughnut show. All the characters around the edge are actually rather interesting, but there’s a big empty hole in the middle, in the form of the completely passive Carrie.
OK, So, positives. The cast sound great, especially Criswell who’s wasted on this sort of tosh, and the chorus who are immaculately drilled by Gary Lloyd who also directs, and are perfectly believable as high school seniors.
It seems invidious to single anyone out as the cast are universally good, and full of energy, but Dex Lee as Billy Nolan is quite a mover, and Patrick Sullivan and Olly Dobson both making their debut in the production, have promise of a good career ahead of them.
Tim McQuillen-Wright’s set is one of the best I’ve seen at Southwark Playhouse, and readily adapts as the events unfold, and the special effects from Jeremy Chernick are suitable spine-tingling.
The band sounds good, and actually quite full under Mark Crossland, and as all the cast are mic’d the levels were near spot on.
For a lot of reasons this is a show which deserves to be seen, not least of which being that you might not get the chance again, but don’t go expecting Shakespeare. You won’t be moved by this show. It’s not structured properly to allow you to empathise with any of the characters. Some of the writing is risible, some infuriating, and some will have you asking yourself ‘why the hell is she singing that song there?’, but one thing you won’t be is… bored.
- Book: Lawrence D. Cohen
- Music: Michael Gore
- Lyrics: Dean Pitchford
- Cast: Evelyn Hoskins, Kim Criswell, Sarah McNicholas, Greg Miller-Burns, and full supporting cast
- Southwark Playhouse, London
- Until 30th May 2015
- Review by Richard Voyce
- 7 May 2015