Multi award-winning theatre legend Caroline O’Connor is gracing the stage at the Southwark Playhouse to take on the role of Anna in Kander and Ebb’s The Rink.
Known for her signature roles on Broadway, the West End and over in Australia, Caroline has taken on Piaf, Judy Garland, Velma Kelly in “Chicago”, Anita in “West Side Story”, Mabel in “Mack & Mabel” and many more.
After playing the role of young Angel, the daughter of Italian roller-skating rink owner Anna in 1998, 25 years later she is revisiting the show to play the role of Anna. “I am very excited by the fact people are interested in the show being remounted because it is a real gem of a show,” Caroline explained. “Kander and Ebb are Broadway royalty, having written shows such as Chicago and Cabaret. This musical is very special as it hasn’t been on in London for 25 years and Broadway for 30 years.”
Caroline describes her role of Anna as a ‘very strong woman’. The musical tells the story of Anna who owns a dilapidated roller skating rink on the boardwalk of a decaying seaside resort. When her daughter Angel returns home in attempts to reconnect with the people and places she left behind, we are told the story of Angel’s complex relationship with her mother Anna.
“Although she is strong, I don’t think that that means that there aren’t wonderfully soft and vulnerable qualities about her,” Caroline said. “She hasn’t had it easy, she had a life where her husband left her and she was a single mum, she had to run a business that belonged to her husband’s family because of a promise that she made out of loyalty.
“It is a fantastic vehicle for that mother/daughter relationship that you read about in magazines all the time. It is that authentic slightly competitive, slightly unforgiving relationship that occurs, but deep down there is always the love. They haven’t seen each other for 7 years and so they are trying to get back into a place where they can communicate and rekindle some kind of friendship and relationship.”
Aside from the fantastic character and hearty storyline, Caroline is delighted to be returning to the music of Kander and Ebb. “I am one of the greatest Kander and Ebb fans of all time,” she expressed. “It feels like a full-circle in my life, I am back revisiting this show that I have so much love for. It’s really fun to look at it from another perspective as the mother. I’ve played Rose in Gypsy twice, but you know what, this role is big, if not bigger, as I don’t leave the stage.”
“I’ve always been mad about a challenge as an artist, people say: ‘You’ve just come from Broadway, why are you going to the Southwark Playhouse?’ And I tell them it is because of the role. I’ve never been someone that has done things just for money or convenience. You’re a long time dead, you’ve got to make the most of it whilst you can.”
Having just finished originating the role of Countess Lily in Anastasia on Broadway, Caroline described the role coming us as ‘almost like fate’. “I was in New York and the producer Jack Maple and choreographer Fabian Aloise met me for a drink and the show came up in conversation,” she said. “It all depended on the diary really but couldn’t have worked out better and being a fatalist as I am, I just knew it was meant to be. Just the excitement of the two of them discussing it with me was so wonderful. It is amazing to have this young, enthusiastic energy around the show, it makes me feel ten years younger.”
With the show taking on a different style to the West End and Broadway production, the intimacy of the Southwark Playhouse will allow the audience to form a deeper connection with the characters and invest in the emotion of the story. “It is such a massive show for eight people, but we are all working as hard as we can to bring the story to life,” Caroline said. “Also the show is complicated as it goes back and forth in time a lot, so we are going into different time zones and we are reliving these amazing moments and memories in Anna and Angel’s lives.”
Ahead of the rehearsal process, Chita Rivera who originated the role of Anna in The Rink handed over her skates to Caroline. “I am such an enormous fan of Chita Rivera, she is probably my inspiration as an artist because she defines the triple threat and I look up to her so much,” she said. “I’ve met her before a few times but every time I see her I crumble a little bit because I am such a big fan. I have such respect for her, but it was so exciting that she passed on the baton to me so generously.”
Talking with such passion and love for the show, Caroline expressed how thrilling it is for the show to have a life again. The beauty of the Southwark Playhouse is that it breathes a breath of fresh air on musicals as the intimacy of the space almost creates a brand new production itself. “I’d love for people to see The Rink having no idea what they’re about to see,” Caroline said. “But leave having had a bit of a laugh, shed a few tears, and really appreciate the brilliance of the incredible writers.”
On from the 25th of May to the 23rd of June at the Southwark Playhouse, tickets and information can be found online here.