BWW Review: WORKING, Southwark Playhouse
With Wicked going strong across the world, and Hamilton a few months away from its much anticipated West End transfer, it seems like the perfect time for the European première of a reworked musical that features compositions from the pens of both Stephen Schwartz and Lin-Manuel Miranda, as well as many others. It continues Southwark Playhouse's varied season, hot on the heels of The Cardinal.
The show is based on Working by Studs Terkel; a meticulous account of the Working lives of American people published in 1974, plus some additional material from thirty years later. Terkel conducted a series of interviews with ordinary Working people and their testimony forms the basis of the book (Stephen Schwartz, Nina Faso and Gordon Greenberg). Over the course of 90 minutes, anyone from a waitress and a labourer to a teacher and a call centre assistant tell their stories.
Songs and monologues seamlessly weave together, fusing different genres of music and showing all walks of life under one roof. Highlights include Stephen Schwartz's opener ("All The Livelong Day"), "Cleanin Women" by Micki Grant, and Lin-Manuel Miranda's "Delivery".
Jean Chan and Gabriella Slade's designs are wonderfully evocative, the set packed with a variety of workplace signs and costumes smeared with dirt to suggest a hard day's toil. It does feel well suited to the Large, though I daresay it could fill a slightly larger auditorium with considerable ease - and a bigger stage would show off Fabian Aloise's intricate choreography even further, giving the piece some room to breathe.
One theme that runs through the show is that of parents Working to make the best life for their children; putting in hard work so that they'll be able to follow their dreams, and hoping they won't be forced to settle for making do. With this thought of generations ever present, it seems apt that the ensemble consists of six performers making their professional debuts: Patrick Coulter, Nicola Espallardo, Luke Latchman, Izuka Hoyle, Huon Mackley and Kerri Norville. With energetic dancing and fantastic harmonising, they support their more experienced cast expertly.
The rest of the cast is superb, putting in a range of performances as they assume different identities. Liam Tamne shows some goofy humour in several of his roles, though none more enjoyably charming than Freddy, the delivery boy. Gillian Bevan shows off both her dramatic and comic chops, going from veteran teacher ("Nobody Tells Me How") to theatrical waitress ("It's an Art") with great ease. Peter Polycarpou's rendition of Schwartz's "Fathers and Sons" is profoundly moving.
The show is a collaborative effort from start to finish, but that doesn't affect its integrity in the slightest. This production has a clear focus, thanks to the direction of Luke Sheppard, and all of the material has been pieced together perfectly, like a musical theatre jigsaw puzzle. The atmosphere and energy it generates is infectious, raising valid points whilst entertaining its audience.
Picture credit: Robert Workman