REVIEW: UNEXPECTED JOY (Southwark Playhouse) ★★★

Having premiered off-Broadway back in April this year, Unexpected Joy follows three estranged generations of women attempting to emerge from the shadows of the men which haunt, dictate and direct their life.

Having spent the night in jail, dope-smoking ageing hippy, Joy (Janet Fullerlove), rocks up to her beach house in Cape Cod, US, surprised to find her daughter Rachel (Jodie Jacobs) and grandaughter Tamara (Kelly Sweeney) waiting for her. The three plan to spend a unifying week together leading up to a musical memorial concert dedicated to Joy’s late husband, ‘Jump’. The time is also an opportunity for the has-been singing sensation to break the news to her fundamentalist Christian daughter, about her forthcoming nuptials – arranged for the day after the concert – to the opinionated rebel Lou (as in Louise). Inevitably, sparks fly and dazzling harmonies emanate as these four fiery women butt heads and find solace in music.

The script by Bill Russel is cheesy and at times a little brash. Dialogue often sounds written purely to insert context which quickly becomes clunky and irritating. Although this first draft nature bleeds slightly into the music, the score by Janet Hood is where this show shifts from small fringe studio to proving its potential for a three-tiered West End venue. The vocals, particularly those of Jacobs and Sweeney, are thunderous and arresting and their voices fill the space with a rather unique and exciting groove. Particular highlights are ‘Like A Good Girl’, ‘Better Times Are Coming’ and the cherubic harmonies in ‘Before You Arrive’.

The show, like the script, feels a little stiff. Considering this is a musical, amongst many things, about letting go, the lack of choreography and a below-par book results in a large portion of the action between songs feeling like you’re watching a rehearsal. Having said this, Unexpected Joy is indeed unexpected in many of its elements. The music has something special in it which is hard to put into words and with a ‘back to the drawing board’ revamp, this heart-warming little piece could become something quite glorious.

Reviewed by Nicole Darvill-Batten

INTERVIEW: Jodie Jacobs talks about acceptance, diversity, love and music in UNEXPECTED JOY


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