BWW Review: FIVER, Southwark Playhouse
The Southwark Playhouse has made a name for itself in featuring new musicals and inventive revivals. It's a venue that provides a platform for productions that are lesser-known, but have the potential to go further, and I suspect with Fiver, they have an uncontested hit on their hands.
Created by Alex James Ellison and Tom Lees, the premise is a simple one. We follow the journey of a five pound note over the course of around 15 years, through the eyes of many different characters - all of whom are portrayed by five incredibly versatile actors (including Ellison as a narrator/busker). The programme foreword explains that the concept for Fiver is an exploration of the old parental adage "don't pick it up, you don't know where it's been". The two hours that follow gives us a hypothesis of the life of a fiver, and we find out exactly that.
Of the multitude of characters that we encounter as the fiver is being passed from hand to hand, most are unconnected to each other and have standalone narratives. This is an interesting direction to take, as the pace of each scene is swift and could run the risk of disconnecting the audience from being invested in the stories of these people. But it works, thanks to the skills of this impressive ensemble of talented actors.
Singling any of them out would do a disservice to the rest. The core four transition between characters (and accents!) deftly, and, at times, hilariously. Ellison takes on the role as busker/narrator, is extremely charming, and breaks the fourth wall in ways that cultivates an immersive experience for the audience. Aoife Clesham has a particular knack for comedy, and Luke Bayer is somehow believable as both a schoolkid AND a father. Hiba Elchikhe excels in Act 2 during the dramatic scenes, and Dan Buckley, as ever, is an endearing stage presence with a voice as smooth as butter.
The original music by Lees is a mixture of indie-pop-rock, with a bit of jazz and rap thrown in for good measure. It feels relevant, catchy, and most importantly, propels each part of the story of this fiver forward. Packed full of musical earworms, it's the kind of score that one could listen to on repeat very easily, and will also appeal to a younger generation.
Act 1 is a couple of tracks too long and feels like it comes to a natural end a few scenes earlier. There is a tonal shift into Act 2 as some darker material is explored, but it's undercut by some lighter scenes, which maintain the pace and comedy. There is a particularly enjoyable farcical scene which felt like a Benny Hill sketch (for those of you who remember that far back!), with all of the four principal actors quite literally sprinting around the stage switching between characters every 30 seconds. Simply brilliant writing and direction.
Fiver delivers everything that the British theatre scene needs to stay relevant, push boundaries, and connect with audiences in an authentic way. I predict this fiver will continue its journey beyond its short run at the Playhouse, and look forward to seeing where it ends up next.