In a week where some truly huge shows are opening in the West End, it might be easy to miss some of the smaller ones - but do this at your peril, as you could be missing out on some absolute gems. One such production is LIFT which opens at Southwark Playhouse this week.
Produced by Gartland Productions, LIFT is back in London after premiering in 2013. Set in a lift in Covent Garden station (The most crucial lift in any underground station. NEVER do the stairs there) where eight characters take the same 54 second journey, it is centred around an underground busker who imagines what their lives might be like and their connections to each other as they interact in surprising and often complex ways.
The busker is played by Luke Friend, who may be best known for appearing on The X Factor. Having the task of having the show centre around him so being on stage more than the others, Luke shows he is up to the challenge, being a very comfortable leading player and showing that his fantastic singing voice lends itself very well to a musical theatre setting.
The remaining seven performers take turns jumping in and out of their own stories - never quite sure if their narrative is real or completely made up from the Buskers imagination, they all share the same names of Gabriel, Sarah and Kate, but are listed by their roles in the cast list. Hiba Elchikhe has another star turn to add to her glittering history as Secretary, showing off stunning vocals and making a role that could be forgettable all the more memorable. As BYT, Marco Titus is best when he is sparring against Hiba, while still holding his own on stage.
Making his professional debut as Ballet Dancer, Cameron Collins is an absolute standout, effortlessly showing versatility in his acting as he goes from a sexually explicit song to pure vulnerability, with Tamara Morgan providing an excellent partner to him in his scenes as the conflicted Lap Dancer. Jordan Broatch and Chrissie Bhima form an interesting double act as the Avatars – both excellent in their own right, they manage to pull off what is undoubtedly the weirdest part of the show.
The cast is completed by Kayleigh McKnight as the French Teacher. If you have seen Kayleigh perform in any roles in the past, you will be aware of just what a formidable talent she is. One of the most exciting performers in the West End, you can’t help but be awestruck whenever she performs and her role here is no exception. She demonstrates vocals for days as she beautifully performs the huge number ‘Lost In Translations’ in what is unquestionably the standout moment of the entire production.
Written by Ian Watson, LIFT boasts some fantastic dialogue – wickedly funny at times, including truly hilarious advice on the best way to mend a broken heart (I won’t spoil the punchline here). The songs, written by Craig Adams, range from big solo numbers which truly allow the cast to shine (such as the aforementioned ‘Lost In Translations’) to group numbers complete with beautiful harmonies. With new arrangements from Sam Young and a brand new song ‘Almost Everything’ added in to this production, they really have never sounded better.
The ever-changing space of Southwark Playhouse has been completely transformed from its most recent production with beautiful looking staging, designed by Andrew Exeter. With pulsing lighting and a great set piece that makes the stage resemble a lift, they take a creative approach to filling the space. With brilliant direction from Dean Johnson and fabulous choreography from Annie Southall, this is a beautiful looking production that doesn’t fail to make you smile.
The concept of LIFT can only be described as a strange beast really. It’s not immediately clear what is going on and even as the show draws to its close, you may leave with the feeling you didn’t fully understand the piece. In that respect, it may prove divisive. If all the characters stories were figments of the Buskers imagination, does that render them inferior? I would argue to do that would do a disservice to the emotion and talent of the performers channelling them. While it is a clever narrative to help them move the main protagonists story forward and hark back to his own issues, helping him move on, I personally would have liked some of the characters to be a bit more fleshed Still, Lift asks some interesting questions such as who are people really? Who hasn’t stood in an enclosed space such as a lift with strangers and pondered who everyone really is.
Meant to represent London in 2022, LIFT does an admirable job of that – embracing the weird and wacky characters you regularly stumble upon in the city. A truly remarkable cast elevates (or lifts) the writing to new levels of brilliance through stunning vocals and glorious acting. Though moments of it are plain weird (Avatars, I’m looking at you), you can’t help but embrace the madness of it. Also featuring great production value, this really was a joyful show to watch. While it is fair to say the show is imperfect, that only adds to its charm. This show has the potential for brilliance, though in its current form it is still a great watch and will definitely lift you up.
Lift plays at Southwark Playhouse until June 18th. Tickets from https://www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/show-homepage/lift/