The Rink

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The Rink, Kander and Ebb’s lesser known musical (book by Terrence McNally) has been hiding its light under a glitter ball for the last twenty years. At last Southwark Playhouse has dusted it off with an immaculate new production that reveals The Rink as a beautiful little sister to Kander and Ebb’s huge hits, Chicago and Cabaret. Small scale in concept, but with a huge heart it perfectly suits the cosy playhouse, dazzling with fairground lights and stunning musical numbers.

First staged in 1984, the show is set in the crumbling edifice of a roller-rink in a seaside town in the 70’s. It’s essentially the story of a tempestuous mother daughter relationship and the collision between dreams and crushing reality. American Italian, Anna Antonelli opens the show with a storming number, ‘Chief cook and bottle washer’ as she hands out the beers and instructs the guys to start the demolition of the rink. Longing to move on, she is thwarted when her estranged daughter, Angel turns up with dreams of restoring the rink to its former glory. As they lock horns, their shared history unfolds through flashbacks, with the demolition men playing all the men who have loved and hurt them.

At first funny and sharp, Terrence Mc Nally’s book deepens as the musical develops until you truly care about the women in the opening of act 2. Caroline O’Conner is as Anna bringing a feiste stoicism and psychological realism to this huge role. She can sing, and even in this small stage space, there’s no denying, she can really dance. As can the entire cast – look forward to the dance on roller skates which brought the house down.

Gemma Suttton as her daughter Angel is both cheeky and vulnerable, pulling off a complex role that takes her back into scenes from her early childhood. Stewart Clarke plays their wayward husband/father Dino who walks out on his family but creates unforgettable magic in the moments he is there. When he sings the heart wrenching lyrical ballad, ‘Blue Crystal’ it’s easy to see how the women adored this man who disappeared for days and then returned with such intoxicating intensity.

Adam Lenson’s production dances across the tightrope between fantasy and gritty reality with a score that never tires. Musical theatre lovers be warned, the opportunity to see this stellar cast and band in the intimate space of the Southwark Playhouse should not be missed. The Rink warns us against nostalgia, but I’m happy to say, it sooths us with a huge dose of just that.

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