Review: Carrie, Southwark Playhouse

“You’re not like the other girls…”

Carrie managed that feat in the late 1980s, though for the wrong reasons, when the moderately-received RSC production transferred to Broadway and swiftly became a multi-million dollar flop, lasting for just 16 previews and 5 performances.

Finally taking Stone’s advice after a long period licking their wounds, book writer Lawrence D Cohen, composer Michael Gore and lyricist Dean Pitchford – undoubtedly boosted by the show’s growing cult reputation – substantially reworked Carrie in 2012 and it is that version that is now seeing the light of day with Gary Lloyd’s production at the Southwark Playhouse – its London debut no less. Was it worth the wait? Did it deserve to flop? Does she make things fly? Does she get covered in blood? 

Kind of, yes, kind of, and – spoiler alert – yes. Despite an effortful production and some strong casting choices, it is not hard to see why the show struggled. King’s story is a skilful blend of the personal and the paranormal – cloistered by a viciously overprotective mother, Carrie White unknowingly hits puberty in an unforgivingly public manner and her high school life is never the same again as menstruation leads to mentalism and more – but here, what should be visceral proves vexatious. 

The tinkering with the story shifts the dynamic in weird ways: we’re invited to sympathise, a lot, with Carrie’s fundamentally religious mother which twists their journey inexplicably; the framing device of fellow student Sue being questioned after the climactic event removes another key element of antagonism; so many of the sharp edges have been removed which makes it a far less disturbing watch than it should be – when you can see it that is, several sightlines are most unforgiving in this thrust staging. 

Additionally, such an intimate space is unforgiving of special effects and they’re variable here – aspects like exploding light fixtures and the floating Jesus were good but others were as chronically wobbly as that bookcase. And the sound balance continually missed the mark, with the over-amplification of the 80s pop-rock schlock of the score muffling many a lyric (perhaps deliberately…) and the constant rumble of thunder and lightning flat out obscuring clarity for little appreciable gain. 

But it is far from disastrous, due in large part to two spectacular performances in the leading roles. Evelyn Hoskins commands powerfully from the centre – her hunched-up public persona contrasting strongly with the rich voice of her private self, the duality of which we see from the start. And Kim Criswell lends her mother Margaret a near-spectral quality with her striking soprano, which deserves far better musical material than this. As with many a cult classic, I suspect Carrie’s an acquired taste. 

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval) 
Photos: Claire Bilyard
Booking until 30th May 

NB: I was actually far more engaged in the post-show discussion which featured original cast members Linzi Hateley and Sally Ann Triplett alongside Hoskins and Criswell, which gave a wonderfully frank view of the experience of being on the inside of a troubled production. I wanted to hug Hateley at the end (and buy Criswell several more pints, she’s a hoot!)

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