Theatre is a transformative storytelling medium. Musical theatre doubly so.
Last Friday night I got to revisit a piece of my musical theatre past. In 1988, as an impressionable 17 year old drama student, I got to see the RSC production of Carrie – the musical in Stratford. It’s a show that has gone down in history, due to the fact that its run on Broadway closed after just 5 official performances. The title becoming a byword for failure: “not since Carrie!” Fast forward 27 years, I’m now 44 and Carrie is back.
I’d heard good things. The book had been radically reworked, even more since the 2012 off-Broadway revival. New songs added, some songs dropped, and a ‘stripped back’ production. I was a healthy mixture of excited and nervous.
Carrie had captured my imagination at 17. Sitting at the very back row of the ‘Gods’ in Stratford, I’d seen a bipolar production of The Kids from Fame mashed with Lucia Di Lammermoor. I loved every second: a bullied teen, telekinetic powers, opera, Leroy from Fame! I was a gay 17 year old drama nerd… of course it spoke to me. Ever since, I’d sought out recordings and sheet music. My writing partner John Myatt sourcing me a video of Stratford and a musical recording of Broadway. We even tried to recreate the story for a gay audience in our first attempt at writing a musical ten years ago: Carter King Lives. That thankfully died a death (sort of…)
So yes, Friday was a big deal for me.
This isn’t a review. I would probably gush too much and my usual analytical distance would get lost in the revisited hormones of my 17 year old self. That said, I loved every second. I was moved. My disbelief truly suspended. Perhaps because of its simplicity, the production felt epic. It felt much more like a Greek tragedy than the original, a style which that production had tried hard to adopt. The central performances were breathtaking in their complexity and emotion. The ensemble and supporting cast were on point. The staging and direction was well executed. The money was saved for the magical effects which landed with impact. It was a production that was committed to the story.
The end of the show is an exhausting bloodbath. A bullied teenager’s response to years of suppression. The audience and the cast have been through the ringer and come out the other side. And it was here that I was transformed. At the bows the audience rose to its feet for the production, and in no small part for its stars Evelyn Hoskins and Kim Criswell. I don’t get to my feet unless it warrants it (people do seem to give standing ovations for just about anything these days) and this performance required my to stand. And it was this moment that ‘transformed’ me. Evelyn Hoskins’ beaming smile through her blood soaked hair. Real joy, real connection with the audience. I felt I had received something magical. I’d been moved emotionally by a challenging piece of music theatre, but I had been rewarded by the joy of the performer.
Evelyn Hoskins’ smile didn’t just say thank you, you like us. It said we are storytellers. This was our story and we’re thrilled you enjoyed, not just the tale, but the telling of it.
Carrie is on at the Southwark Playhouse until 30th May