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Lift at Southwark Playhouse | Review

The whole narrative in Lift is almost totally implausible, at least to me, until the penny dropped about two-thirds of the way through. The central character (Luke Friend) – the programme does not supply the audience with character names – carries a guitar on the London Underground. I didn’t quite follow why this was, and indeed the show seems to be at pains to be as ambiguous as possible about as much as possible without being completely bewildering. The guitarist is holding back: he was in a relationship that had, as far as I could gather, run its course, and a year later, he is still grieving over the split, and still carrying the ‘Dear John’ letter around with him. The programme calls his character the ‘Busker’ (inverted commas theirs, perhaps because there didn’t seem to be a lot of busking going on).

LIFT - Southwark Playhouse - Photo Credit - Mark Senior
LIFT – Southwark Playhouse – Photo Credit – Mark Senior

The musical theatre ‘happy ending’ comes with a resolution to move on and get on with the rest of his life, while the bulk of the show is a series of reflections and observations involving an overactive imagination, in which everyone he is in a lift with at Covent Garden Tube station is characterised. He does not, of course, actually know every person in a rush-hour lift, which gives him carte blanche to conjure up whatever backstories he wishes in his own mind. But his creative juices do not extend to giving each person their own distinct name, and his ongoing trauma (ooh, doesn’t young love hurt) has an impact on his ability to provide himself, and thus the audience, with the kind of life stories that are fully gripping.

There is a businessman (Marco Titus), who firmly believes that, to summarise views held by the famed economist Milton Friedman (1912-2006), the only social responsibility of business is to increase its profits, and struggles to get his head around the need to do the right thing by his employees. A French teacher – by which I mean a British woman who teaches French (Kayleigh McKnight) – is given a somewhat bizarre gift in the form of a session with a dominatrix. (Spoiler alert: we are not treated, or indeed subjected, to a pants down demonstration.) A ballet dancer (Cameron Collins) identifies as gay but is struggling to find a way to notify his family accordingly: his story could have been an entire show in itself.

Lift is perhaps too ambitious, cramming in a lot of narratives, including one about online dating, which seemed to take up a disproportionate amount of stage time. Despite premiering less than a decade ago, it has already become a period piece in places: the proliferation of software such as Zoom and Teams has altered online communication significantly. The staging is fairly minimal, which allows for quick changes between scenes: the lighting does much to distinguish one place from another. Even so, one must remain engaged throughout to have much chance of following proceedings sufficiently.

This is not problematic in itself – it is nothing short of commendable that the show engages the audience’s imagination while exploring the imagination of the guitarist. It’s very much an urban musical for urban audiences, though of course people who live in the country are equally capable of understanding the idea that every person has their own life story. Some actor-musicianship from Luke Friend was good to see and made me wonder if some other instruments could also have been deployed on stage by the company.

There’s some humour in the show, which wasn’t to everyone’s taste, but it kept much of the audience entertained. It flows very well and may be overly complicated in parts. In the end, this briskly-paced and physically demanding production provides a revealing insight into city living. It may leave people wanting more, but this is far better than outstaying one’s welcome. Lively and enthusiastic.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

LIFT is set in a London underground lift, in one man’s imagination, on its way to the surface during one minute. In the 54 seconds of the lift’s passage, we are taken on a much longer journey that reveals the people behind the masks they wear, the secrets they dare not speak, and the unrealised connections between them.

The world premiere of LIFT ran a limited season at Soho Theatre in 2013. Starring Cynthia Erivo, Julie Atherton and George Maguire. Gartland Productions is passionate to reflect the diverse and contemporary landscape of 2022 London.

Creative Team
Director Dean Johnson (He/Him)
Musical Direction and New Arrangements
Sam Young (He/They)
Choreographer Annie Southall (She/Her)
Production Designer Andrew Exeter (He/Him)
Assistant Director Eden Howes (She/Her)
Production Management Andreas Ayling (He/Him) & Glyn Dodd (He/Him)
Production Assistant Ella Macfarlane (She/Her)
Associate Designer Natalia Alvarez (She/Her)
Assistant Designer Xinyi Du (She/Her)
Casting Pearson Casting
Producer Liam Gartland (He/Him) for Gartland Productions & Chris Maguire

Chrissie Bhima
Cameron Collins
Jordan Broatch
Hiba Elchikhe
Luke Friend
Kayleigh McKnight
Tamara Morgan
Marco Titus

LIFT is presented through special arrangement with Broadway Licensing, 7 Penn Plaza, Suite 904, New York, NY 10001 www.broadwaylicensing.com.

13 MAY – 18 JUN 2022

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