REVIEW: FIVER (Southwark Playhouse) ★★★★

FIVER is a new musical is c0-written by Alex James Ellison, who takes the role of busking narrator and Tom Lees who is the musical director.

The show opens with Ellison taking to the stage with his guitar. He asks an audience member for £5 in exchange for his business card. The story then unfolds as we follow the titular fiver as it changes hands on a journey through the city.

The cast of 4 actors take on a range of characters as a myriad of individual stories are told. The characters come and go in little vignettes which are individually interesting, sometimes poignant, sometimes funny and always delivered with a great song. In the first act these characters come and go at a breakneck pace, never allowing the audience to really feel any empathy or connection to them. The central “star” of the show is the fiver, an inanimate object that is not, of itself, very interesting.

The musical is at its strongest when it slows down and concentrates a little deeper on individual characters. This is done to great effect in the second act when the actors are able to add some depth to their characters.

This is a really good production and for a first musical by Ellison and Lees it is really interesting, clever and funny. However, it does feel a little like they have thrown everything into it and a perhaps some streamlining could smooth out some of the kinks in it. The music and songs are really enjoyable, demonstrating a wide range of musical influences – I get the feeling that one or both writers are big Eminem fans!

The cast are wonderful and on a roasting hot evening in South London did a fantastic job in what must have been a challenging environment.

Aoife Clesham looks remarkably like a young Idina Menzel and has the vocal ability to follow in her footsteps. She also showed fantastic comic ability. Dan Buckley who with Laura Baldwin was one of the rare bright spots from Eugenius, is really great in this production. He has a beautiful, warm engaging voice.

Luke Bayer is a star in the making. He was the understudy Jamie to John Macrae in “Everyone’s talking about Jamie” so obviously has a great voice, but it is his range of acting on show in this production that is just superb. In one scene he plays an expectant father throwing a surprise baby shower for his partner. All four of the cast come and go through the scene playing different characters attending the party. Bayer is hilarious as he exits stage left to return moments later stage right playing a different character while giving a knowing nod to the audience. Hiba Elchikhe has a beautiful stage presence and brings a gentle calmness to the scenes she is involved with, making her psychotic teenage character all the more surprising.

Playing so many different characters in this production really allows the actors to show a wide range of their abilities and they all consistently deliver.

This musical has a wonderful cast and a great central idea, but the story is a little muddled and overly busy in parts.

Reviewed by Emma Heath
Photo: Danny_with_a_camera

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