Colour and Light: Anyone Can Whistle @swkplay

What’s hard is simple. What’s natural comes hard, so the lyrics in the title song, Anyone Can Whistle. But this production,  currently playing at the Southwark Playhouse, takes one of the more challenging Sondheim musicals and makes it seem effortless and straightforward to enjoy. And they deliver it with endless enthusiasm and panache.

It’s a bonkers story about a town that comes up with a miracle to attract tourists and improve its prospects. Up to this point, the only thing going for it was its sanitarium for the socially pressured (otherwise known as the Cookie Jar). These people, known as the cookies, are non-conformists. Yet they seem to be happier than anyone else in the town. But as the show progresses, its none too subtle digs at religion, authority, politics, and conformism can make your head spin about what institution it is taking on. 

The best thing is to let much of the absurdist story fly over your head. After all, even Sondheim critiqued it for being too clever. But this production manages to put it in a new light. 

And the diverse and energetic cast sells whatever crazy line they have to say with relentless enthusiasm. And perhaps with everything else going on in this world, a show that only lasted nine days on Broadway can be appreciated in a new light. And maybe some of these observations about the insanity of conformism aren’t so far off the mark.

And that’s even before you get to the themes about living life, being alive, making a choice and moving on. Listening carefully, you will hear the themes that would run through other works of Sondheim later in life. But the beginnings are here.

This production also makes the most of the space, setting the action in the traverse so the cast can move among the audience. The costumes in an array of bright colours (well, for the cookies at least) offset the heavy-handed messaging with many bright hues.

The cast is a mix of newcomers and established theatre players that also anchor the piece. Chrystine Symone, as the nurse, gives a touching rendition of the show’s title song. Making their professional debut, Jordan Broatch as the hero also shines with their take on character and interpretation of the songs. 

The mayoress is the villain of the piece. Yet  Alex Young makes her into a flirty, comic and conniving thing. So much so that you wouldn’t mind being one of her flunkies who dance around her. 

And so go. See it as a bonkers curiosity. But marvel at its insight and the message about individualism. This intelligent production brings this to the front and centre. 

One other observation. Despite the theatre's request, those wearing masks were in a distinct minority on press night. But given the small space and interaction with the audience, anyone can wear a mask. Easy. Here’s hoping that future audiences choose to so the show can run uninterrupted without covid illness. 

Directed by Georgie Rankcom, Anyone Can Whistle is at the Southwark Playhouse until 7 May.


Photos by Danny With A Camera

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