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REVIEW | The Rink | Southwark Playhouse

For the first revival in 30 years, Kander and Ebb’s musical The Rink is given a new lease of life at the Southwark Playhouse with an intimate production starring theatre royalty Caroline O’Connor.

Telling the story of a mother and daughter who meet again after years apart, their tarnished relationship unfolds in a delicate and tender production that captures a multitude of emotions. Anna, a strong-willed and feisty roller skating rink owner who has faced numerous obstacles in her life. She decides to give up the business and move across the country, until her daughter, now 30, arrives on her doorstep.

Caroline O’Connor is no stranger to the stage, starring in productions both on West End and Broadway such as Me and My Girl, Chicago, A Chorus Line and most recently Anastasia, it is almost as if she invented the phrase ‘triple threat’. From the moment she opens her mouth to sing her first note, the audience are completely captivated with her astounding performance. Her charismatic character is laced with sincerity but has a distinctly excellent wit and flair through flawless comedy timing. O’Connor’s vocals are sublime and her movement is flawless, showcasing a phenomenal performance that you just can’t take your eyes off.

When Anna’s daughter Angel begins to sift through their memories, we see her desperation for her mother not to throw away a place that defines her childhood. Anna has left home to forge her own identity, and a heart-breaking broken vulnerability seeps through her confident return. Gemma Sutton gives a sensational performance as a young girl that fights to get out of her mother’s shadow. Sutton’s depiction of Angel feels entirely genuine as she encapsulates the complexity of the role. We see her grow from a young girl with big dreams, to a conflicted teenager and then troubled woman. Her stellar vocals give the musical numbers a modern edge, and her performance of Coloured Lights is truly beautiful.

The dynamic between Anna and Angel is exceptionally crafted and Adam Lenson’s direction is exemplary. The shift between the brash arguments, endearing moments and poignant scenes is entirely consuming. Gripped onto their every word, as an audience we travel with them as we delve into the history of their relationship. Lenson picks up on incredible detail that makes the performance so authentic as he strikes the perfect balance between the whirlwind of emotions. One minute you’re howling with laughter at Caroline O’Connor’s excellently witty lines, and the next you’re holding back the tears.

Despite the central focus on the two leading women, the men bring huge layers and depth to the production as they multi-role as the characters Anna and Angel encounter in their life. Whether it’s Angel’s father, the demolition team, or the two old ladies on the boardwalk, their versatility is performed with superb clarity.

Fabian Aloise’s choreography is magnificent as each scenes shifts seamlessly into the next through fluid and slick movement. However, it’s the musical number ‘The Rink’ that shall go down in history as jaw-droppingly innovative tap dancing in roller skates. The movement is quick and sharp, showcasing remarkable skill from every performer on stage as they create this vibrant atmosphere through their sheer energy and commitment to their roles.

The Rink is joyous, uplifting, reflective and pulls on all your heart strings. This exquisite production is a masterclass in musical theatre that will make you laugh, cry and everything in-between as Caroline O’Connor and Gemma Sutton give an unforgettable performance.

★★★★★

On at the Southwark Playhouse until the 23rd of June, tickets can be found online here.

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