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Review: Anyone Can Whistle (Southwark Playhouse)

Since the world lost the legendary Stephen Sondheim late last year, we have been treated to revivals of some of his greatest shows on both sides of the Atlantic. One of the most exciting albeit surprising revivals is a new production of the largely overlooked Anyone Can Whistle.

When Anyone Can Whistle first opened on Broadway in 1964, it lasted just 9 performances before closing. Since then, it has been revisited less than any other of Sondheims musicals. This new production at Southwark Playhouse, featuring brilliant direction by Georgie Rankcom, is being cited as the biggest staging of the show since its Broadway debut. But given its reception last time, can they pull off the unthinkable and make this production a success?

Let's talk about the big pink dancing elephant in the room... this show is weird! But the glory of it is how unashamed it is in this approach. All semblance of sanity is checked in as you walk through the door. The less you think about what is actually happening, the better. With a book by Arthur Laurents, the story revolves around a fictional town and its corrupt mayoress who control everything, even the miracles, as inmates from the local asylum called "The Cookie Jar" roam the streets.

The Mayoress Cora Hoover Hooper is played by the always wonderful Alex Young. Absolutely barking mad in the role, she embraces the insanity in a completely overstated yet note-perfect performance. Through knowing looks to the audience and an inimitable style of movement, she gives a masterclass into the art of characterisation. Cora may essentially be the villain of the piece, but you can't help but love her and all of her corruptness.

Chrystine Symone is fantastic playing Nurse Fay Apple who tries to right the wrongs by the Mayoress. Showcasing effervescence and a stunning voice, the biggest numbers in the show including the iconic title track are reserved for her, which she performs to perfection. Jordon Broatch is a marvel as J. Bowden Hapgood giving one of the most charismatic performances I have witnessed on a stage. Seemingly channeling Willy Wonka, they strut around the stage with such confidence, I struggled to take my eyes off of them whenever they were present in what was an incredible feat of acting.

The remainder of the cast of 13 are all exquisite. From Danny Lane’s brilliantly over the top Comptroller Schub to Nathan Taylor’s bold Dr Detmold and Renan Teodor’s barmy Chief Police Officer Magruder. They are completed by Kathryn Akin, Marisha Morgan, Hana Ijicho, Samuel Clifford, Jensen Tudtud, Teddy Hinde and Shane Convery who all get turns to showcase their comic timing and incredible talents in what is truly an exceptional cast. Be warned if you’re not fans of breaking the fourth wall – in Anyone Can Whistle, the wall isn’t so much broken as it is shot at with a confetti cannon. Between Alex Young sitting on an audience member, and members of the cast mingling with the audience and getting them to read their lines, it is almost immersive in feel.

Acting aside, the production value is where Anyone Can Whistle really shines. Produced by The Grey Area Theatre Company and Alex Conder, Southwark Playhouse has been adapted to feature a runway down the middle with the audience on either side. Bold, colourful and brilliant, the set design by Cory Shipp (also responsible for the fabulously loud costumes) can’t help but put a smile on your face. Fantastic choreography from Lisa Stevens brings the show to life. Stunning lighting from Alex Musgrave and sound from Justin Teasdale means this show ticks all the boxes.

A Sondheim show isn’t complete with some incredible songs, and Anyone Can Whistle boasts these. Beautifully orchestrated by Charlie Ingles, numbers like the title song and ‘A Parade In Town’ are up there with his best. Chrystine Symone delivers a showstopping moment with her rendition of ‘There Won’t Be Trumpets’ while ‘Everybody Says Don’t’ is a rousing highlight.

While Anyone Can Whistle may prove divisive, if you can embrace it for what it is – a bit of nonsense fun, you’ll surely embrace the insanity and fall in love.

Can I be sure I completely understood what was going on? Absolutely not.

But did I enjoy it anyway? Absolutely.

It may be a mess of a show but this production makes the best of it in every way they can. With an incredible cast and phenomenal production elements, Anyone Can Whistle is a feast for the senses. It may have been an almighty flop when it debuted all those years ago, but a miracle has happened - this production is a hit! Absolutely bonkers but a success nonetheless. You’d be mad to miss it.


Anyone Can Whistle is at Southwark Playhouse until May 7th. Tickets from

Photos by Danny with a Camera

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