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Review of Kander and Ebb’s The Rink at Southwark Playhouse

L-R Jason Winter, Michael Lin & Ross Dawes in THE RINK, credit Darren Bell
L-R Jason Winter, Michael Lin & Ross Dawes in THE RINK, credit Darren Bell

Imagine a significant sporting fixture in which much is at stake for the two opposing teams. In the first half, the team that you are rooting for is holding its own, but the performance is a tad slow and needs to pick up the pace if they are going to win the match. Half-time is reached and the club’s supporters are apprehensive. Unseen to the fans, however, is a half-time team talk from the club manager that, for whatever reason, has a significant motivating effect on the players. They go back out there and demonstrate flair, confidence and speed, and – most important of all – win.

That’s how this production of The Rink came across. It plods along at a borderline pedestrian pace in Act One, but the audience’s patience is rewarded in Act Two when the show is much livelier and more passionate. Perhaps it is partly that there’s quite a long wait before the ‘I wish’ musical number comes in the first half, where Angel Antonelli (Gemma Sutton) dreams of having her own rink and community centre, in a song called, funnily enough, ‘Angel’s Rink and Social Centre’.

Perhaps it is that the salient point being made in a song occasionally comes across as strung out. An example: in ‘Don’t “Ah Ma” Me’, Angel is expected to show deference to her mother Anna (Caroline O’Connor). It’s an entertaining number, for sure, but even for a musical, it’s highly repetitive. It’s a show that exposes audiences to a social activity in the United States that a previous generation enjoyed during their upbringing. For the uninitiated (as this reviewer was), after the Second World War and up to the 1980s, it was commonplace for youngsters in the US to attend ‘roller rinks’. At such venues, the floor would be made of wood or otherwise concrete. Birthday parties for high school students would often be held at rinks, and as The Rink demonstrates, many a chat-up line and partner dancing would take place. After the performance I attended, a couple of Americans in the audience testified to regularly attending rinks in their local communities, and they felt the show captured the rink experience very well.

At one level the plot is straightforward: there is a need to move with the times, so Anna is selling up and moving on. But the sale of the property is an opportunity to reminisce about old times, and through a series of dramatized flashbacks and recollections, the stories of Anna, her husband Dino (Stewart Clarke), and their daughter Angel gradually unfold. Relations between them are strained to say the least, providing a rich and nuanced (if dark) narrative.

The choreography (Fabian Aloise) is delightful. In the title musical number, sees most of the cast doing the sort of song-and-dance number that wouldn’t be out of place in something like the Drury Lane production of 42nd Street. Here, though, this production does wonders with the limited performance space available, and the set (Bec Chippendale) is highly convincing – it really does look like the rink has seen better days.

O’Connor and Sutton are excellent casting choices, both seemingly effortlessly gliding (as it were) through proceedings. The score is performed well by a seven-piece band under the direction of Joe Bunker. This production is ambitious in bringing to life a show from the past about the past. With strong vocals and compelling performances, the cast do a splendid job with what they are given. An interesting and refined show.

4 stars

Review by Chris Comaweng

Anna, an Italian housewife who runs a roller-skating rink on the Eastern seaboard, is about to sell it to developers until her estranged daughter, Angel, returns after a long absence, hoping to save the rink and patch things up with her mother.

THE RINK originally premiered on Broadway on 9 February 1984, starring Chita Rivera as Anna and Liza Minelli as Angel. Rivera won the Tony and Drama Desk Awards for her performance. The show premiered in London at the Cambridge Theatre on 17 February 1988, starring Josephine Blake and Diane Langton as Anna and Angel respectively.

THE RINK has a book by Tony Award-winning Terrence McNally (Ragtime, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Master Class). This new production is directed by Adam Lenson and choreographed by Fabian Aloise, with musical direction by Joe Bunker, set design by Bec Chippendale, costume design by Libby Todd, lighting design by Matt Daw, sound design by Mike Thacker and casting by Jacob Sparrow.

THE RINK is produced by Jack Maple and Brian Zeilinger, with associate producers Corey & Jessica Brunish, Stuart Burrows & Jonny Clines and Daniel G.Peterson.

LISTINGS INFORMATION
25 May to 23 June 2018
Southwark Playhouse
77-85 Newington Causeway
London SE1 6BD

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