CAROLINE OR CHANGE
Book & lyrics by Tony Kushner Music by Jeanine Tesori
The Playhouse Theatre, Northumberland Avenue, London WC2N 5DE to 6 April 2019.Mon- Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 30 mins One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 871 7627
Review: William Russell 19 December
A thrilling revival superbly performed
Sharon D Clarke is magnificent as Caroline, the maid in a Jewish household in a southern city/ She toils in the basement doing the laundry, cleans the house, is taken for granted, the unseen being who keeps things working . The mistress of the house is a second wife who comes from New York and does not understand southern ways, her step son Noah has not reconciled himself to the idea of someone taking his mother’s place. He has a habit of leaving change in his pockets which Caroline puts in a jar, but the stepmother decides she should keep as a lesson to the boy. This offends Caroline’s sense of what is right, but eventually she takes the money which she does need as she has three children to rear. The Civil Rights movement is starting up, the world is in flux and her eldest child, a girl, is involved, he two younger sons are simply happy go lucky. Then Noah is given a 20 dollar bill by his New York grandfather, who also does not comprehend the black experience although he does know the Jewish one, and that too ends up in the washing with shattering results.
The score is powerful, and the story works perfectly with a trio of household items – actually glamorous coloured women – commenting on what is going on and the moon, also a glamorous coloured figure, also passing judgement. It sounds insane, but it works and at the heart of it all is Clarke, a sober, almost sullen figure, someone who knows their place but also knows it should not be like that. She gets a series of terrific songs to sing and she really is spellbinding. But it is not a one woman affair. Lauren Ward as the stepmother is very good indeed as someone married to an ineffectual man, means well and gets it wrong every time, while Abiona Omonua is spirited as Caroline’s daughter who wants her mother to join in the fight and cannot understand why women as resourceful and hard working as she is should let themselves be exploited and not rise to the events of the times. Like Clarke she also gets some powerful arias to sing and delivers them full throatedly. The mixture of reality and fantasy works amazingly well, and this is an evening when the standing ovation at the end was fully deserved. The show impeccably directed by Michael Lyndhurst has been at Chichester and then the Hampstead Theatre and in the transfer to the Playhouse has lost none of its power to move.
Caroline: Sharon D Clarke.
The Washing Machine: Me’sha Bryan.
The Radio: Dujonna Gift-Sims.
Noah: Aaron Gelkoff/Jack Meredith/Isaac Forward.
The Dryer: Ako Mitchell.
Rose: Lauren Ward.
Grandma Gellman: Sue Kelvin.
Grandpa Gellman: Vincent Pirillo.
Stuart Gellman: Alastair Brookshaw.
Dotty: Naan Agyei-Ampadu.
The Moon: Angela Caesar.
The Bus: Ako Mitchell.
Emmie: Abiona Omonua.
Jackie: Kenyah Sandy/Mark Mwangi/Jeremiah Waysome.
Joe: David Dube/ Josiah Choto/Raphael Higgins-Humes.
Mr Stopnick: Teddy Kempner.
Director: Michael Longhurst.
Set & Costume Designer: Fy Davis.
Choreographer: Ann Yee.
Musical Director: Nigel Lilley.
Lighting Designer: Jack Knowles.
Sound Designer: Paul Arditti.