Review: Caroline or Change, Playhouse Theatre

The extraordinary Caroline or Change makes the leap into the West End at the Playhouse Theatre, with a titanic Sharon D Clarke at the helm

“The Devil made the dryer.
Everything else, God made”

For the assiduous theatregoer, this is the third opportunity to catch this stirring Chichester Festival Theatre production of Caroline or Change. From its original run at the Minerva last year to the Hampstead Theatre this spring, this idiosyncratic musical now arrives in the West End in the relative intimacy of the Playhouse Theatre.

And it is an intimacy that is needed to draw you into the true shape of Michael Longhurst’s production – to be confronted with that Confederate statue, the sweltering isolation of that basement, the knots of tension on furrowed brows. The winds of change may be starting to blow across the US of the early 1960s but here in this Louisiana household, societal change has yet to filter down to the individual. 

It’s a work that almost defies explanation. Jeanine Tesori’s eclectic score binds together elements of gospel, soul, and blues with Motown harmonies and operatic tension. And Tony Kushner’s book weaves fantastical strands (Caroline’s appliances all sing with her) with hard-hitting tragedy as race and class fall under the microscope.

Michael Longhurst’s production captures all of these contradictions beautifully, the revolve of Fly Davis’ design full of tragic momentum. And though there’s been some changes in the supporting cast, there’s outstanding work from Ako Mitchell, Naana Agyei-Ampadu and Aaron Gelkoff (at this performance) as Noah. Powerfully moving and a positive presence in the West End.

Running time: 2 hours 35 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Helen Maybanks
Caroline or Change is booking at the Playhouse Theatre until 6th April

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