Review of 'Anyone Can Whistle' a revival, at Southwark Playhouse
Small theatres can often mean small budgets, small casts, and small scale productions. The Southwark Playhouse may not be huge (I think that this production would seat just shy of 300 people), but there was nothing small scale about this. A live orchestra of five, and a cast of thirteen filled the theatre with song, dance, comedy and drama.
The staging was simple; resembling a catwalk with the audience seated either side, the focus on a mysterious rock at one end. We later learnt that this was a left over prop from a failed Peer Gynt festival in the unnamed town.
The play revolves around the Mayor of the town and her ambition to become Governor. Just two things stand in the way of her ambitions, the town is broke and all the citizens hate her.
The only business making money in the town is the 'Cookie Jar' i.e. the mental asylum where the patients are referred to as 'Cookies'. I think that this reflects the time in which the book and musical were written. In 2022 this terminology feels demeaning, but is central to the plot.
Mayor Cora Hoover Hooper is played with great gusto by Alex Young. She and her gang of three croonies are all about the money. The relationship between Mayor Cora Hoover Hooper and Comptroller Schub, played by Danny Lane, is one of the highlights of the musical. His constant attempts to get her to agree to dinner at either his place or hers at any possible time is one of the running jokes. Her affections are somewhat fickle, and it's not until the end that she realises how much he means to her.
The Mayor and Treasurer, Chief Police Officer, and Comptroller come up with a plan to put the town back on the map. A miracle, nonetheless. The rock can now produce water and will be able to attract 'pilgrims'.
All that is standing in the way of the scheme is emotionally controlled Nurse Fay Apple, played by Chrystine Symone. (Is the repeated line about her need for control an early 60s reference to frigidity?) She wants her 'Cookies' to experience the miracle. Does she want this as she thinks that it will 'cure' them, or does she want this as a way of revealing the Mayor to be the charlatan that she is?
Confusion is unleashed as a new 'Dr' arrives. Jordan Broatch plays J.Bowden Hapgood as the charismatic face in town. The Mayor is besotted, as is Nurse Apple. Can we tell who are the townspeople and who are the 'Cookies'? What's the line between sanity and insanity? His sorting method confuses everyone, and meantime unleashes Nurse Fay Apples' alter ego. She emerges as a pink wig wearing French femme fatal claiming to be a miracle inspector from Lourdes.
Confused? It is confusing! At the interval I overheard a conversation amongst audience members. One person said, 'I feel as if I'm at the Edinburgh festival late at night after taking acid.' I think that the bright and psychedelic costumes contributed to that feeling!
This is a highly energetic musical production from a young company, The Grey Area, combined with a great cast, some of them making their stage debuts. If you want to find out how it all pans out, if Nurse Apple discovers her whistle, then you'll have to go to see it for yourself.
On now until 7th May 2022. Standard tickets cost £27.50 with other concessionary prices available.
77-85 Newington Causeway
London, SE1 6BD