REVIEW: GREY GARDENS (Southwark Playhouse)

The 1975 documentary, Grey Gardens, seems to have a cult following, or at least that is what the tremendous applause and standing ovation at last nights European Premiere of the 2006 Broadway musical led me to believe.

Telling the story of Jackie Kennedy’s (wife of US President JFK) aunt and cousin, who lived together in the huge bedroom family home, with no running water and more than fifty cats. The house was threatened to be closed down by health officials and it was headline news back in the 70’s, which led to the women allowing a film crew into their house to try to put things right. Unfortunately, the film just went to show that they were both fairly crazy and weren’t really in a position to look after themselves properly.

Jenna Russell and Sheila Hancock play the mother and daughter, Edie and Edith Bouvier Beale, with Jenna playing the younger version of her mother for the majority of act 1. It is a show of two halves. Firstly, a look back at the high society life the family lived back in the 1940’s, where Edie was set to marry JFK’s older brother Joseph, until Edith scared him away with talk of Edie’s indiscretions as a teenager.

The well designed set by Tom Rogers gives just enough of the pig-sty look of the dilapidated house, whilst also managing to create the aristocratic past life of the home in earlier scenes. It is an adventurous sized set for such a small space but is used well (especially with the garden swing which flies in and out of the set).

Musically, Grey Gardens is very much in the 1940’s style with no real eleven o’clock number to write home about but some good songs like ‘Marry Well’, ‘Daddy’s Girl’, ‘Peas In A Pod’ and ‘The Revolutionary Costume For Today’ which received huge applause from the audience at the beginning of act 2.

Jenna Russell is a credit to Musical Theatre. She shines in every role she plays and takes off the character of Edie with perfection. Sheila Hancock, now 82, is only briefly seen in the first half of the show but plays the slightly scenile, alcoholic mother Edith well and true to the original character. Jeremy Legat is great as Edith’s flamboyant friend Gould and accompanies much of act 1 on piano on stage. His camp nature reminded me of Beverley Jordan in the TV show Will and Grace. Aaron Sidwell shows versatility as Soldier Joseph Kennedy and also the polar opposite, hippy friend of Edith’s, Jerry. Rachel Anne Rayham shines as Young Edie, oozing charisma and with a lovely vocal tone.

Grey Gardens is something you need to go in to with an understanding of the story, or it can become a little muddled along the way. But for fans of the original story and documentary, this is a well directed interpretation of a very interesting piece of history.

Reviewed by West End Wilma
Photo: Scott Rylander

Grey Gardens is playing at the Southwark Playhouse until 6 February 2016