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You Are Here at Southwark Playhouse | Review

One can see why a production of You Are Here has surfaced at the Southwark Playhouse as the theatre industry tries (again) to get back on its feet. Diana Ferguson (Wendi Peters) has left the house for the first time in an indeterminate period (relatable much?) and explores that thing called Outside. As I have (re)discovered recently, outside is expensive: for 58-year-old Diana, in 1969 in Chicago, $22 is a pretty steep price to pay for a night at a hotel – as she puts it, it’s the price of a week’s groceries.

Rebecca McKinnis, Phil Adèle, Wendi Peters, Jordan Frazier.
Rebecca McKinnis, Phil Adèle, Wendi Peters, Jordan Frazier. Credit Callum Heinrich.

Peters has by far the most work to do in the four-strong cast, though it is pleasing to report that the audience gets to know the other characters in sufficient detail. When Ruby (Jordan Frazier) persuades her to take on a job – seeing as she didn’t have one – her new boss is surprised to see that Ruby has recommended an older person. It’s hardly unprecedented, but it is still relatively unusual to see an older woman front and centre in a musical, and the sheer toll of decades of domestic life and servitude towards her husband Gerard become evident as the show progresses. I couldn’t help but look up afterwards what women were not permitted to do in the United States in 1969 – it transpires, for instance, credit cards could not be given to a woman without her husband’s consent until 1974.

Diana’s friend, Joan (Rebecca McKinnis), has been worried sick about her, as she had taken off without warning – I get that this was before the era of mobile telephony and social media, but if Joan was as concerned as she said she was, would she not have contacted the authorities and report Diana as a missing person? Diana’s attempts to go it alone are made challenging by inner voices who tell her she can’t do this, she shouldn’t do that, and so on. A scene in a restaurant had sections of the press night audience in cahoots as the voices combine to form a chorus, amplifying her embarrassment at being denied a small table in a quiet corner as the only table available (she hadn’t made a reservation) was a table for four people in the centre. It has to be seen to be believed.

The set is borderline minimal, allowing for swift scene changes. Some nuances in the lighting design help the audience easily distinguish one place from another in the story. Completing the set of on-stage characters is Daniel (Phil Adèle, who gets to demonstrate some actor-musicianship), whose own experiences are something of a revelation to Diana – in a good way. There are frequent references to The King and I, but with three other very distinct characters that Diana can glean something significant from on her journey, another film came to mind: The Wizard of Oz.

A three-strong band glides through fifteen musical numbers (quite a few to get through in ninety minutes, though the show did not feel rushed). Peters’ Diana shows both determination and vulnerability, and I daresay the audience might have given the show a standing ovation at the end had the venue not requested we didn’t do so. It might be a tad too saccharine for some, though I found this to be a slick and absorbing production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

You Are Here is the UK premiere of an intimate, hilarious and heart-breaking tour-de-force musical that will leave you cheering for the resilience of the human spirit.

July 20, 1969. On the night of the moon landing, Chicago housewife Diana (Wendi Peters) walks out of her comfortable suburban life for no real reason. She sees the astronauts taking that great step and is struck by the realisation that some people lead exciting lives. Suddenly alone in a fast-changing world, she finds a series of unexpected encounters can turn one small step into a giant, life-changing leap.

This is a live, in-person performance running for four weeks. There will be two live-streamed performances on Saturday, 22 May at 3pm an 7.30pm (captions available for the matinee performance).

The Grey Area Theatre Company presents the UK premiere of

YOU ARE HERE
Music and lyrics by Neil Bartram. Book by Brian Hill.
Directed by Matthew Rankcom. Musical direction by Laura Bangay.
Movement direction by Amie Hibbert. Set and costume design by Libby Todd.
Lighting design by Jai Morjaria. Sound design by Charles Parry.
Cast: Wendi Peters. Further cast to be announced.
Dates: Monday, 17 May – Saturday, 12 June 2021
Previews: Monday, 17 May | Tuesday 18 May | Wednesday 19 May
Press night: Thursday, 20 May 2021 at 7.30pm
http://www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/

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1 thought on “You Are Here at Southwark Playhouse | Review”

  1. Very enjoyable. Wendi Peters worked so hard and was so believable, but all the cast were great. What an amazing singing voice Jordan Frazier has too! Great lyrics and music too. I wondered if a bit more could have been made of the listing for the moon to reflect the mood of the protagonist? But didn’t;t detract from the enjoyment of the piece. Great to be in a theatre again too!

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