The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: Southwark Playhouse, London.
Reviewed 20th May 2019
Based on the short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of The Great Gatsby and The Tender and the Damned, and subsequent film starring Brad Pitt The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is set during the First World War and tells the story of a love that defies all odds. Trapped in a body where he doesn’t belong – a body where he ages in reverse, Benjamin Button dreams of freedom, adventure and, most of all, love. Finally, after meeting local girl Elowen Keene their lives begin to move in reverse and when war calls Benjamin across the seas, time is not their only enemy.
This musical does what most other productions can hope for. From the moment that the lights go down the audience is drawn in; hook, line and sinker and are thrown on a rocky ride through Benjamin Button’s life. Full of charm and heart, Darren Clark’s music which manages to draw influences from Celtic folk, sea shanty’s and more modern influences such as Mumford and Sons, mixes together effortlessly to create an innovative, outstanding score. The intricate harmonies reverberate around the small auditorium and, despite the lack of microphones, fill the space gloriously. With clever lyrics, stunningly beautiful accapella moments and even some Cornish thrown in this is certainly not a typical musical. Unique in its approach it is fresh and creative.
Jethro Compton’s idea to set this production in a small Cornish fishing village within living memory makes the show even more relatable. He states that ‘it was important, however, that the implausible story was grounded in a plausible world – connected to real world events’. By doing this he has given life back to the story and brought it up to date with today’s audiences. With the folklore and mythology often associated with Cornwall it also makes for the perfect setting. The set, designed by Schönlatern, not only transports the audience to a rustic Cornish village with its rough wood floors, wooden crates, fishing baskets and rope but is cleverly constructed using items collected from the beaches of North Cornwall by the Cleaner Seas Project. These items are also utilised brilliantly in the construction of the puppets which are some of the most imaginative seen. Made from washed up items including bottles, rope, driftwood, fishing baskets and waste plastic the puppets have been expertly designed and constructed by In The Bellows.
The story is beautifully told throughout by an extremely talented cast of just five actors who play multiple roles. Not only this but they also play all of the accompaniment using various traditional instruments including the violin, fiddle, drum, piano, accordion and cello. Matthew Burns, Rosalind Ford, Joey Hickman, Philippa Hogg and James Marlowe give a masterclass in acting and musical performance whilst also remaining onstage for the duration of the 2 and a half hour production. Despite such a small space, the use of the stage is brilliant and the use of wooden crates and planks being the only main props is simple yet effective. The stunning lighting by Schönlatern enhances the show and makes it even more mythical and engaging.
Every element has been thought through during this production. Jethro Compton wanted to re-create the story, to bring it to life and capture our imaginations. He has certainly achieved this. One of the main themes running through the production is of time. Constant references to the years, months, days, minutes and even seconds highlight the passing of time always. In fact, one of the most memorable songs entitled ‘Matter of Time’ highlights just that: time is something we all have. We cannot speed it up, nor slow it down. But instead we should make the most of the time we have. I sincerely hope that this production has a future life because it certainly deserves it. But since this stunning production is currently only running for a limited time, make the most of your time and race down to the Southwark Playhouse to see it now!
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is running at the Southwark Playhouse until the 8th June 2019. For information and tickets click here.
Photo Credit: Jethro Compton Productions