Carrie (The Musical) – Review

Evelyn Hoskins, as Carrie.  Images Claire Bilyard
Evelyn Hoskins, as Carrie. Images Claire Bilyard

Election night. I had a choice between watching the coverage on TV, or going to the theatre to check out Carrie The Musical. One’s a dramatic horror story about immature, backstabbing, cunning bullies, culminating in a bloody and unexpected climax that ends badly for all involved..

The other just opened at the Southwark Playhouse.

Having devoured countless Stephen King books in my lifetime, Carrie was my first and favourite. There’s even a chance I might have tried to do the telekinesis thing, as a kid. It didn’t work the first time I tried (Matilda-era) but it was worth another shot.

Carrie’s the almost-invisible kid at school, a 17-year-old under the thumb of her uber-Christian Mother, friendless and generally ignored, until one day she gets her first period in the shower at school and has a massive freak out.

Kim Criswell as Margaret and Evelyn Hoskins as Carrie in CARRIE - THE MUSICAL. Photo Credit Claire Bilyard

Vicious bullying by the class Mean Girls results in a ban on the gang’s leader, Chris, attending prom. To get her own back, Chris and her boyfriend arrange for a bucket of pigs’ blood to be dumped on Carrie when she’s finally getting her perfect high school moment at the dance.

Turns out Carrie can make things explode and move and catch on fire just by staring at them, so she’s rather good at enacting violent revenge.

Neither the original film or recent remake fully satisfied, with both Sissy Spacek (1976) and Chloë Grace Moretz (2013) falling short of the Carrie – somewhat of a goth girl icon – in my head.

Evelyn Hoskins couldn’t be more perfect as the lead in this revival of Carrie the Musical which first debuted at the RSC in the ‘80s before going to Broadway.

Hunch-shouldered, crippled with fear and anxiety (and liberally decorated with bruises from the physicality of previous nights’ performances), she’s tiny, almost childlike. But the moment she steps on stage you can’t take your eyes off her.

Carrie

Surrounded by the tans and thighs and hair-dos of the supporting cast, she’s an otherworldly creature. Hoskins’ note-perfect, sweet but unexpectedly powerful voice beautifully betrays Carrie’s inner desire to be heard, understood, the centre of attention for a change.

Kim Criswell, an internationally-known veteran of musical theatre with forty albums under her belt, plays Margaret White as a kinder, cuddlier, more loving mother than her on-screen predecessors.

While we lose a classic villain, we gain an incredible rock-opera voice that rightly attracts rapturous whooping from the night’s largely young, and liberally wine-guzzling, crowd.

Criswell’s duets with Hoskins are astonishing, her solos raise goosebumps, and she’s rightly afforded more time on stage than the character really needs.

Greg Miller-Burns and Sarah Nicholas as Tommy Ross and Sue Snell have an obvious onstage chemistry, with Miller-Burns’ presence making me even more gutted that I missed Sondheim’s Assassins, in which he appeared, last year.

Gabrielle Williams’ Chris Hargensen and Dex Lee’s Billy Nolan – swaggering, intimidating, unlikable bullies of the worst sort – are both over-the-top, unsubtle stand-outs who dominate the stage with ease.

Williams, who’s still training at The Arts Educational School, is among a large percentage of the cast making their professional debut in Carrie and is definitely one to watch.

The enthusiasm, uniformly better-than-perfect voices, and downright visual gorgeousness (sorry, is that shallow of me?) of the young cast under Gary Lloyd’s direction more than makes up for the big, loud, but fairly forgettable, pop-rock tunes.

I won’t spoil the climax for those who don’t know the plot, let’s just say that on a bigger stage, you can imagine the fun they could have had with fire. There isn’t enough gore either, but I also said that about Sweeney Todd.

Given the size of the space and relatively budget-friendly price of a seat, the sound, light, and effects guys do a great job throughout with some dramatic, if slightly campy, bangs and crashes and wire-work levitating, but it’s all over a bit too quickly once the ‘scary bit’ of the story gets going.

Still, the most bloody fun I’ve had at a musical for ages.

Carrie the Musical runs at the Southwark Playhouse until May 30.

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