Review: Sylvia, Old Vic

Sylvia returns to the Old Vic at last, but it still hasn’t really developed into the musical it could be

Be the change that you want to see

Back in 2018, the Old Vic had a bit of time of it with this show. First billed as a dance piece which then morphed into a musical, Sylvia’s initial run was reconceived as a work-in-progress midway through, raising all sorts of questions and no little frustration as there was no concomitant price reduction. It was also a mess of a show, albeit one with admirable ambition.

Nearly 5 years down the line, things are a little more settled thankfully, not least with a running time that has lost something like 40 minutes. Kate Prince’s Sylvia retells the life of suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst through the prism of hip-hop, rap, soul and funk in Josh Cohen and DJ Walde’s original score and a through-sung book from Prince and Priya Parmar.

But though the energy is whip-smart here and pleasingly raucous in this austere venue, the story it is telling doesn’t match it for its daring. The book is content with a soft-soap, almost polite version of the lesser-sung Pankhurst, there’s no roughness here, no sense of the sharp edges of the social unrest needed to inculcate a revolution.

Sharon Rose is undoubtedly great in the role, supported well by Beverley Knight as her mother Emmeline (a smaller role than you might expect) and in a strong company, Alex Gaumond and Jade Hackett stand out. You just wish the book took the same level of adventurousness as the score to present the grittier side of suffragette life

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Marc Brenner
Sylvia is booking at the Old Vic until 8th April

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