'The Rink' at Southwark Playhouse, London - review

"An overlooked gem".


Pick a superlative: Firecracker, whirlwind, tornado. They all apply to Caroline O'Connor in The Rink.

As Anna - the owner of a run-down roller-skating rink in a seaside town which has, like Anna herself, seen better days – the insanely talented Australian wonder sings, dances and acts up a storm, delivering her quick-fire quips and wonderful Kander & Ebb tunes with roof-rattling brilliance.

Less well-known than Kander & Ebb's bigger hits Cabaret and Chicago, The Rink is an overlooked gem which flopped on Broadway despite casting Chita Rivera as Anna and Liza Minnelli as her daughter Angel, and it only managed 38 performances during its 1988 London run.

Three decades later it skates back into town with a scaled-down production that's so snappy and witty, with sparkling choreography, elegant staging and pitch-perfect performances, you have to wonder how a show this good isn't held in higher esteem.

To be fair, the storyline is a flimsy one: Anna, an Italian-American with a fierce temper and a life full of regrets, is preparing to sell up when daughter Angel, an errant hippie with back-chat to spare, returns home to challenge her plans.

But writer Terrence McNally (of Love! Valor! Compassion! and Kiss Of The Spider Woman fame) uses the basic plot to fashion a very funny and deeply moving meditation on family and home, flashing back to troubled times and happier memories.

It's all set in the rink of the title, where the transitions from present to past are masterfully handled by director Adam Lenson and choreographer Fabian Aloise and the supporting cast flit in and out of different roles (one minute they're removal men, the next they're ladies on the boardwalk) with ease.

Gemma Sutton doesn't have Liza's full-wattage charisma but she's hugely likeable as Angel and Stewart Clarke is in beautiful voice as the troubled husband/father Dino. And O'Connor, so good in everything she does, is so so good here. I'd love to have seen Chita in the original but I doubt she could have done any better.

Rating: 5/5

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Words: Simon Button