Review: The Rhythmics, Southwark Playhouse

New musical The Rhythmics captures much of the bittersweet and heart-warming nature of a good Brit flick at Southwark Playhouse

Note: I saw The Rhythmics on Saturday 11th December, just before the rescheduled press night and then the devastating news that the production was being forced to close due to Covid-19 related absences and the impossibility of productions of this size being able to retain understudies. Heartbreaking in the extreme, not least because the show was a joyous shot in the arm, right next to my booster (get vaccinated, everyone, please). I truly hope the show gets to return as it’s too good not to be shared. I wrote this review before the cancellation and haven’t edited it – I hope it brings a little joy.

“Sod off and let me play with me ribbons”

Who doesn’t love a montage? All the best films have them because all the best films are based on building up the big performance (whether it is Sister Act, Bring It On or Pitch Perfect). New musical The Rhythmics sticks well to this model but cleaves a little closer to home, a la The Full Monty, Brassed Off or even Calendar Girls, implementing a distinctly British tone to its quietly touching story of ribbons, red lycra and redemption.

With a teenage daughter he’s barely got room for in his tiny flat in Chorlton and a real difficulty in holding down a job, single dad Grey would rather dream of being in a band than taking life seriously. But when circumstance conspires to get him in the same room as auditions for an all-male rhythmic gymnastics troupe, he’s set on an unlikely path towards possible World Championship glory and definite self-discovery and some rather snug red lycra pants.

On the face of it, The Rhythmics is rather adorably and joyously daft, suffused with a rich vein of dry Northern humour, plus a reference to Wigan Athletic which is always a winner in my book! But I’d say there’s much more to it than that. P Burton-Morgan’s book glances on notions of masculinity in crisis through the six wildly different men who make up the group. As they battle body image, loneliness, fading social media presences and much more besides, as simple a lesson as teamwork and communication proves the hardest to learn.

Ben Glasstone’s score is entirely eclectic but the magpie-like approach works here, with a cheery set of refrains set to earworm their way into your brain and an open-hearted emotional palette that is often hard to resist. Performance-wise, Noel Sullivan is appealing as the hapless Grey, matched by an assured professional debut from Zweyla Mitchell dos Santos as his daughter Silva. Around them, Ken Christiansen’s highly-strung Nick pairs beautifully with Andrew Patrick-Walker’s acrobatic Jeremy and there’s particularly gorgeous dancing from Kirby Hughes’ Sue and Kinny Gardner’s Sid, well, from all of them really. 

And as whimsical as twirling a ribbon may seem, the choreography – by Deaf Men Dancing’s Mark Smith – emerges as something more profound as elements of sign language are woven through. It may be slightly spoilery but it should come as no surprise that the final routine is a thing of pure festive joy, receiving deserved extended applause. With everything that’s going on in the world, something this uplifting just feels entirely appropriate.

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Alex Brenner

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