Friday, 8 January 2016

Review: Grey Gardens at the Southwark Playhouse

Grey Gardens
Southwark Playhouse
Reviewed on Thursday 7th January 2016

Adapted from the 1975 documentary, Grey Gardens is an unusual musical which explores the relationship between a mother and daughter - Edith Bouvier Beale and Little Edie - as they spiral down the social ladder and become reclusive outcasts living in horrific conditions (surrounded by cats).

The first act of Thom Southerland's production brings the audience up to speed and delves into the backstory of the mother/daughter relationship. Jenna Russell proves herself a force to be reckoned with as Edith opposite Rachel Anne Rayham who makes a triumphant London stage debut as 'young' Little Edie.

For those familiar with Albert and David Maysles' documentary, everything clicks into place in the second act which sees Russell switching to play Little Edie alongside the formidable Sheila Hancock, who doesn't hold back one tiny bit, playing Edith. The second half is a huge gear change; the entire pace and dynamic completely shifts. 

Russell gives yet another knock out performance; she is hilarious but also portrays both roles with a sprinkling of sincerity which enables moments to be compelling. She nails her rendition of 'The Revolutionary Costume for Today' which kicks off the second act, giving an absolute masterclass performance.

Hancock is wickedly funny, leaving the audience in fits of laughter with her stern one-liners. She acts her way through musical numbers and shares impeccable chemistry with Russell. A big mention must go to Anne Rayham who makes an incredibly strong impression during the first act whilst Aaron Sidwell is well cast as Joseph Patrick Kennedy, it's nice to see him excelling in a completely different role.

It's such a luxury for an off-West End production to have a ten piece band, they play in a separate room to enable sound levels to be perfected - a big step forward for the Southwark Playhouse. Tom Rogers' design is detailed and fairly grand for the space.

I can't decide whether I think the piece would work in the West End. I wouldn't want any intimacy to be lost; however, if tweaked appropriately Southerland's production could be destined for future life. The cast are certainly West End standard (Russell would be an award season favourite).

After Grey Gardens concluded I flicked through the documentary (which I hadn't previously seen) during my commute home and was taken aback by how similar certain moments are to scenes in the second act. Tremendous attention to detail has been noted - it is impressive to see how Scott Frankel (music), Michael Korie (lyrics) and Doug Wright (book) have turned the documentary into a musical - on paper the concept sounds strange, but the show is truly remarkable.

Reviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Grey Gardens runs at the Southwark Playhouse until 6th February 2016.
Please visit for further information and tickets.

Photo Credit: Scott Rylander

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