Attending a performance at the Southwark Playhouse is often a friendly experience and last night was no exception. From the front of house greeting, to service at the bar and the volunteer ushers who take care to show you to your seat as you circumnavigate the stage (which is always in a different configuration), you feel welcomed from the start.
Last night the stage was surrounded by the audience on three sides in a horseshoe shape. Before us, Production Designer Andrew Exeter has created a set that is in touching distance; a laser-lit outline of a metal box that mostly represents a lift in an underground station, but with the use of ingenious lighting is at times many other locations, such as a night club or office. It is a clever use of a very small space, where the actors enter and exit the stage in intimate proximity to the audience. This serves to remind the spectator of the duality of living cheek by jowl in a large city with millions of strangers, which can also leave you lonely and isolated.
Alongside the background sounds of rumbling trains so realistic it made me question how far away Elephant & Castle station really was, it took a while to register that there was a busker on stage as the audience entered, tuning his guitar, singing and playing tunes and quietly vying for attention alongside the chatter. When the light dims for the formal start, the Busker (Luke Friend) becomes the focal point and narrator of the story as his own tale of loss forms the central theme for all eight characters.
From the moment the first number is sung by the ensemble the vocal quality takes your breath away. Musically, every single performer is outstanding and the orchestra, positioned above the tech desk barely above the heads of the audience, complements that excellence.
The narrative is carefully constructed, with a starting point of eight strangers in an underground lift together. All impatient for their journey to end, squished as they are next to each other (although only for an average of 54 seconds, so not quite a minute!), they are all looking for the same thing in a city of strangers; understanding, acceptance and love.
The choreography is exquisitely arranged by Annie Southall. Each performer moves in and out of each other’s space, almost touching but not, sometimes using the lighting tubes as props, often at the feet of the audience. This reminds us of the human need within a city to connect, whilst simultaneously recoiling from a stranger’s space. The characters represents a wide spectrum of colour, race and sexuality, and each portrays their own story of a fraught relationship, with a lover, or a boss, or a mother. Their commonality of desire is seeking understanding and acceptance, as each story weaves in and out of the others.
This is a lovely, lovely piece; so cleverly assembled, and professionally delivered. It’s hard to find fault other than to say a couple of the performers’ acting skills don’t match their singing skills, which is only brought into sharp relief by the nuanced professionalism of the rest of the cast. They were far from bad, but slightly awkward in comparison to the rest of the cast. Nonetheless this is an outstandingly delivered and moving production.
Written by: Ian Watson
Music & Lyrics: Craig Adams
Directed by: Dean Johnson
Produced by: Gartland Productions
Executive Producer Liam Gartland
Musical Director: Sam Young
Choreographer: Annie Southall
Production Designer: Andrew Exeter
Sound Designer: Dam Samson
Casting Directors: Pearson Casting
Lift plays at Southwark Playhouse until 18 June. Further information and bookings can be found here.