Despite a strong lead performance from Alex Young, Anyone Can Whistle ends up really testing the patience at Southwark Playhouse
“The play isn’t over by a long shot yet!”
Sondheim’s musical reputation means that he gets away with a lot when it comes to his shows, Anyone Can Whistle being a real case in point. Arthur Laurents’ book is a stinker, no two ways about it, and so any production has to wrestle with a narrative that feels wilfully confusing as it tries to evoke a madcap world. I’ve seen a couple of productions now that have done a decent job (Tom Littler doing well at the Jermyn Street, Phil Willmott making a stab at the Union) but in all honesty, it’s a fight that few win, even the original production ended up closing a few nights after opening.
I loved much of the creativity, energy and thoughtfulness of the approach that Georgie Rankcom’s dayglo production takes here at the Southwark Playhouse. To be frank, I still don’t think the show works and if you have seen it before, I find the novelty of ticking it off your list soon wears off. But a cracking lead performance from Alex Young is a real stand-out from an actress currently in a really rich vein of form and by sheer force of will, almost makes the whole thing hang together and forgive the mild audience participation.
Her Cora Hoover Hooper is the mayoress of a town in a slump and as no stranger to corrupt practices, decides to fake a miracle which draws the attention of the townsfolk and the inmates of a local asylum alike, calling into question how sane anyone really is. The concept of the ‘other’ is neatly reflected in a cast of true diversity but there is just a touch too much of the feeling that some are at the limits of what they’re able to play.
And overall, the weakness of the book just lets the show down over and over, something which feels exacerbated by the amping up of the zaniness here. The traverse staging doesn’t help, there’s real issues with the sound balance and an overloud band and at over two hours with a doozy of a ending that appals with its irresponsibility, the challenge here is real.