REVIEW: THE RINK (Southwark Playhouse) ★★★★★

The tenth musical collaboration by the team behind mega-hits Chicago and Cabaret, The Rink first premiered on Broadway in 1984. Even though this original production starred Broadway royalty Liza Minelli and Chita Rivera supported by a young Jason Alexander and future director/choreographer Rob Marshall, the production received mainly negative reviews. However, in the UK The Rink enjoyed sell out success when it premiered in 1987 at the Forum Theatre in Manchester before transferring to the Cambridge Theatre in the West End, with stars Josephine Blake and Diane Langton headlining. The musical was then revived by the original UK director, Paul Kerryson, in 1998 at the Leicester Haymarket this time starring Kathryn Evans and Linzi Hateley. A new production has been mounted at the Southwark Playhouse this year, making this the first London revival of The Rink in twenty years.

The Rink follows Italian housewife Anna who manages a run-down roller skating rink on the dilapidated boardwalk. She decides to sell the rink to developers and have wreckers in to level the building. Just as the wreckers begin their work, Anna’s estranged daughter Angel returns to town after a long absence to reconnect with the people and places she left behind long ago. Through a series of flashbacks and revelations, the audience learn about Anna and Angel’s past and follow them as they attempt to re-connect, reconcile and move on with their lives.

The new Southwark Playhouse production stars Caroline O’Connor as Anna and Gemma Sutton as Angel. As the story unfolds six men are used as various characters from the past including, Stewart Clarke as Angel’s father Dino, Ross Dawes as chief wrecker Lino and Dino’s father, Ben Redfern as Lenny, who’s been besotted with Anna for years, Michael Lin as Lucky, Elander Moore as Benny and Jason Winter as Tony.

As Anna, Caroline O’Connor’s performance can only be described as magnificent. From her opening number Chief Cook and Bottle Washer, the audience needs to understand they’re meeting an incredibly strong, proud and broken women and O’Connor achieves this in abundance with the audience emphasising with her and wanting to see her succeed. Soon after this rousing opening number, Gemma Sutton returns home as Angel and the audience immediately sees the connection between Mother and Daughter and through body language can ascertain they haven’t seen each other in a long time.

Communication quickly turns to bickering and the audience is treated to its first duet between O’Connor and Sutton, Don’t “Ah Ma” Me, which is a chance for both to display their incredibly controlled and well-rounded vocal, matching vowel sounds and diphthongs to seamlessly sound like Mother and Daughter.

Coloured Lights, perhaps the best known song from The Rink, is moved from the start of the show to the end of the first act and perfectly expresses all the things Angel loves about her family’s rink. This song has so many nuances and Sutton delivers an emotional performance and strong vocal, making her performance nothing short of resplendent.

Act Two opens with Anna and Angel getting stoned, putting on roller skates and singing the spirited The Apple Doesn’t Fall, in which they realise they’re not so different from each other after all. Another highlight of Act Two is Wallflower. It’s Angel’s school prom and the dance is being hosted at the rink, naturally the talk turns to which boys Angel likes and Anna encourages her daughter to ask the boy to dance and not be a wallflower. Proving O’Connor and Sutton are Queens of their craft, this bright number is expertly performed as both are able to display their tremendous dance ability in addition to delivering a flawless vocal. An energised and alive performance all the cast of another Kander and Ebb show currently playing the West End could definitely learn from.

Half way through Act Two the audience hears from the men who have been called in to pull down the rink, as The Wreckers the men find roller skates and sing and dance an extraordinary The Rink. Not only do they dance in roller skates, but they tap dance. Tap Dance. In Roller Skates. I was floored by how strong the men must have been to lift the heavy skates to tap dance in. A definite wow moment that was totally unexpected and something I haven’t had in a theatre for a very long time.

A masterclass in acting, directing and design The Rink at The Southwark Playhouse is dazzling. The production offers moving performances, strong vocal and enough wow moments while remaining true to the subtly of the piece and the Mother/Daughter relationship at its core. Musical theatre at its best.

Reviewed by Stuart James
Photo: Darren Bell


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