Old Vic Theatre
The Cut, Lambeth, London SE1 8NB 0344 871 7628
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Ends 8th April 2023.
Pankhurst. Suffragettes. We all know Emily, but what about Sylvia? This is her story.
A musical using soul, dance, hip hop and funk. First seen in development at this theatre in 2018, the finished product containing original music by Josh Cohen and DJ Walde is now ready.
Beverley Knight does not appear at performances from 20th until 28th April 2023. Casting details are given for information only and theatremonkey.com takes no responsibility for any alterations or non-appearance of cast members stated.
(seen at the afternoon performance on 22nd February 2023)
Rather like “Martin Guerre,” this musical has had infinite re-writes and re-stagings over many years, none of which overcome a fundamental flaw in the concept. We know the outcome, and there are absolutely no surprises to be revealed.
The creators must thus come up with something else to lend proceedings dramatic tension. Unlike “Blood Brothers” where unpicking a fascinating idea about nature verses nurture gives the show cast iron structure and box office longevity (on the second attempt), this goes for the more modern approach of folding contemporary culture into an historical tale.
If a drama school party had seen “Hamilton” and been set the task of creating their own factual historic show, this would be the result. A vast number of scenes, some highly polished and exciting as “Hamilton,” others not so strong and a few seeming like someone forgot to remove them from the script after they were cut during workshops is what we get.
Kate Prince writes the book and lyric, directs and choreographs over two hours and twenty minutes of playing time. Nothing we haven’t seen or heard if “Hamilton” is fresh in the mind, and the whole is a very simple tale blown up to extraordinary length - as repeating "Hamilton" in the preceding paragraphs illustrates.
There’s some sound work. The first 20 minutes or so are gripping, bursting with energy. The point made about Winston Churchill’s indifference to the cause is also perhaps news to a few (and did newspapers then have headlines or advertising on the front page anyway? Designer Ben Stones?).
The racecourse scene, the one fact everyone remembers, is inventive and the pain of force-feeding is also real. Josh Cohen and DJ Walde comes up with some bouncing rhythms to which Prince rarely reaches for the rhyming dictionary or struggles with an appropriate word.
Problem is, there’s not a lot else in the story and it becomes repetitive and quickly too. At least the cast is in good voice. Without much in the way of characterisation required, it is mostly about the vocals. Beverley Knight as matriarch Emmeline Pankhurst is in powerful fettle.
Equally enjoyable are Verity Blyth in a lovely turn as Clementine Churchill, Jade Hackett also fun as Lady Jennie Churchill keeping Jay Perry’s Winston Churchill in line.
Alex Gaumond as Keir Hardie has the best of the dramatic roles, alongside Sharon Rose as Sylvia – a romance bubbling under.
The company march, gyrate, protest or just sit and observe on steps under slightly over-done projections. One large screen is flown in and out again for just a few moments, perhaps trying to get value when an idea was lost but the rental and programming had been paid for?
The whole show is rather like that. With such details that do not advance the story it feels simply way too long.
There’s a stunning 90 minutes in here when they find the right editor. A story worthy of the stage and an interesting way of telling it, but also a demonstration of just how difficult it is to create great musical theatre.
The monkey advises checking performance times on your tickets and that performances are happening as scheduled, before travelling.
Monday to Saturday at 7.30pm
Wednesday and Saturday at 2.30pm and 7.30pm
Runs 2 hours 30 minutes approximately.
Theatres use "dynamic pricing." Seat prices change according to demand for a particular performance. Prices below were compiled as booking originally opened. Current prices are advised at time of enquiry.
RUSH TICKETS: App Todaytix are offering £25 "Rush tickets," located at venue discretion, for all performances. Released for the performance on that day, first-come, first-served. Download the App from Todaytix.