THE AZ OF MRS P
book by Diane Samuels music and lyrics by Gwyneth Herbert conceived by Neil Marcus based on the autobiographies of Phyllis Pearsall.
Southwark Playhouse (The Large) 77-85 Newington Causeway SE1 6BD To 29 March 2014.
Mon-Sat 8pm Mat Sat .3.30pm & 13, 20, 27 March 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7407 0234.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 4 March.
Witty musical that’s streets ahead.
This lively, informative musical celebrates the extraordinary achievement of an ordinary woman, one made by battling against repeated crowds of doubts.
The story of Phyllis Pearson’s development of AZ street maps and her company Geographia is so bound-up with the structure and style of Diane Samuels’ and Gwyneth Herbert’s musical they seem aspects of one single conception by Neil Marcus.
Sam Buntrock’s production strides briskly through the story, mirroring the cartoon pacing, doors and maps flying around as required, all under a skyscape of suspended paper and street signs. Emerging from a door as she leaves her husband in 1930s Venice – then almost returns – Isy Suttie’s optimistic Phyllis faces an oncoming choric train. Repeatedly, in this traverse setting, the central stage pits her against the rest of the world.
There’s irony in the originator of a map-book being unable to tell left from right. But Phyllis brings out the helpful in people. Outside her family, that is. From her brother’s awkward refusal to put her up in London, it’s clear this isn’t a happy family. The brother goes nowhere, while France Ruffelle as Phyllis’s mother spends the whole play as an alcoholic, ending in a hospital, with bruised arms.
Sandor, Phyllis’s Jewish-Hungarian father, is seen in full perspective when act two moves her from creating her AZ to establishing it as a commercial enterprise. His bonhomie becomes bullying, the gentlemanly elegance and cane a philanderer’s props, the business sense a willingness to sack his wife and threaten the same to Phyllis. Michael Matus reveals this darker side without losing the sense of Sandor’s magnetism.
Anxieties over her parents preoccupy her as a loyal workforce assembles around her office. They are her new family, and, in contrast to her father, she protects their futures by establishing the company as a Trust.
Buntrock’s company achieve a lightness that makes things skip along. Without it weaknesses in the musical material might appear – as it is, a late, serious love-ballad unhelpfully slows things down.
Generally, though, the brightness, lightness and musical skill keeps the story firmly and wittily en route to its destination.
Phyllis Pearsall: Isy Suttie.
Bella Gross: Frances Ruffelle.
Sandor Gross: Michael Matus.
Tony Gross: Stuart Matthew Price.
Mrs P Company: Ian Caddick, Sarah Earnshaw, Max Gallagher, Sidney Livingstone, Dawn Sievewright.
Director: Sam Buntrock.
Designer: Klara Zieglerova.
Lighting: David Howe.
Sound: Andrew Johnson.
London Sculpture: Su Blackwell.
Orchestrations: Sarah Travis, Gwyneth Herbert.
Musical staging: Nick Winston.
Musical Director: Steve Ridley.