Review: The Rink, Southwark Playhouse

Get your roller-skates on and over to the Southwark Playhouse for a croking revival of Kander & Ebb’s The Rink with a stonkingly good Caroline O’Connor

“Noisy boys, long and lean.
Giggles of girls in the mezzanine”

All sorts of thoughts pass through your mind as you watch The Rink, at least they do if you’re me. Wouldn’t Gemma Sutton be perfect casting in the lead of the inevitable Lindsay Lohan: The Musical; does Jason Winter have the longest legs in musical theatre; does Caroline O’Connor have any trace of a Lancashire accent at all; didn’t Kander and Ebb write fricking fantastic songs for women; and does an ability to roller-skate in a musical make you a quadruple threat?

That’s not to say I was distracted whilst sweltering in the Southwark Playhouse during this preview on Saturday, but rather that my mind was entirely stimulated (not least when Winter does some kind of windmill move on the floor…?). The Rink is one of those musicals that history hasn’t treated too kindly, despite a premiere that starred Chita Rivera and Liza Minnelli but with Adam Lenson’s expert hand at the tiller, this is a revival to treasure.

The show concerns a dilapidated Coney Island roller-rink that long-suffering Anna has decided to sell up and move on out of. Her plans are scuppered, temporarily at least, when her estranged daughter (and co-owner) Angel appears and a lifetime of recriminations and regrets are hashed out, each coming to realise that their memories don’t quite recall things the same way. Swirling through past and present, it’s thus quite a journey.

Caroline O’Connor and Gemma Sutton are inspired casting choices as the feisty Italian-American pair: O’Connor brilliantly, scathingly quick-witted as the bittersweetly hilarious Anna, and Sutton’s devilish glint showing how the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, despite more than 10 years absence from the family home. And as the men set to knock down the rink, and any number of incidental male characters in the story, there’s great ensemble work from Stewart Clarke, Ross Dawes, Michael Lin, Elander Moore, Ben Redfern and Jason Winter.

Fabian Aloise’s choreography is as good at hinting what’s going to happen before a single roller-boot has been laced up as it is when the company are wheeling around and (mostly) seeming to be having the time of their life. And Kander and Ebb’s score is full of big, brassy moments and gorgeous sostenuto notes that MD Joe Bunker marshals with real skill. It’s vibrant and heartfelt and huge amounts of fun.

Starlight Express, doesn’t impress; Xanadu, who are you; give me The Rink, it’ll tickle you pink. I’ll stop now…

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Darren Bell
The Rink is booking at the Southwark Playhouse until 23rd June

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