This new musical by Gwyneth Herbert, Sarah Travis and Diane Samuels tells the story of Phyllis Pearsall, a painter who it’s said walked 3,000 miles around 23,000 of London’s streets to create the A-Z atlas, although this is now regarded as something of an exaggeration.
Far-fetched or not it’s an intriguing subject for a musical so does it work? Well the answer in the main is yes, but with a few reservations. The show’s best attribute is a performance of real heart from Isy Suttie in the title role. She portrays Mrs P as a determined but sensitive person who never lets the burdens of a domineering father and emotionally damaged mother dampen her enthusiasm for the task.
Excellent support comes from Michael Matus as Phyllis’ father, Sidney Livingstone as her assistant Mr Fountain and Frances Ruffelle as her mother. Indeed, the whole ensemble cast that also includes Ian Caddick and Sarah Earnshaw never puts a foot wrong, and it’s all inventively staged by director Sam Buntrock.
The weak points of the show for me were in length and the overall structure. Moving back and forth between Phyllis’ childhood and the present day and trying to cram in the minutia of her life wasn’t particularly well done and often gave the piece an uneven feel. And it is too long, quite a bit too long, with not enough memorable songs in the score to sustain that length. The second act in particular gets a bit bogged down and tips over into melodrama by concentrating on the turbulent marriage of Phyllis’ parents.
Overall I enjoyed Mrs P’s adventures and in a week when some commentators have tried to tell us the public have given up on the idea of new musicals it’s important we give original work a chance. However, if this show is to have a life in the West End some judicious editing is needed.
The A-Z of Mrs P is written by Gwyneth Herbert, Sarah Travis and Diane Samuels
Directed by Sam Buntrock
Mrs P Isy Suttie
Bella Frances Ruffelle
Sandor Michael matus
Tony Stuart Matthew Price
Taxi Driver/Telegram Man Ian Caddick
Daisy Sarah Earnshaw
Frank Max Gallagher
Mr Fountain Sidney Livingstone
Esme Dawn Sievewright
Reviewed by Tony Peters
The A-Z of Mrs P plays ar Southwark Playhouse until 29 March. Click here for tickets