The Rink at the Orange Tree Theatre
“Nostalgia,” as the quip goes “ain't what it used to be.” Unless, that is, you re talking about a Kander and Ebb musical. Many of the duo's numbers seem to be borne of retrospection. In Chicago for instance, Velma Kelly enquires, “Whatever happened to class?”, and now, in this new revival of The Rink, we have a protagonist who asks “What happened to the old days?”
It's an understandable lament, especially if you re getting on in years like Anna Antonelli (Gay Soper) and being overtaken by squalour. Mrs A used to own a glitzy boardwalk roller rink, but now the neighbourhood is frequented by 'bastards and scumbags” and “you can't go out without a baseball bat.” And that's just part of a larger catalogue of misfortune - her husband has deserted her, her daughter Angel (Gillian Kirkpatrick) has deserted her, and at one point in the proceedings it even appears as if God himself has deserted her.
At least Angel returns, at which point the rink, neglected and crumbling, starts to serve as a metaphor for the mother and daughter's own relationship. Now a comic hippie, complete with afghan and tie-dye shirt, Angel wants to salvage both the rink and the relationship; Ma meanwhile, sees Angel's return as just compounding her troubles. Hand on hip, she treats her offspring to a good old Italian-American tongue-lashing in a number entitled “Don't Ah Ma Me”. Still, there's no denying that Angel is mamma's little girl, and over the course of the next few hours, in which the pair confront their respective demons, and share the odd toke on a joint, all becomes sweetness and light once more.
Creating a roller rink within the limited confines of the Orange Tree's stage was never going to be an easy task - the floor area isn't much larger than some suburban living rooms. While this may suffice for the mother and daughter scenes, it is simply too cramped when you have six men on roller skates tearing around, as is the case during the show's title number. This song provides us with the only real showstopper of the evening - however, I couldn't help but feel that the audience was applauding the bravura of six skaters doing their stuff in such a tiny space, as much as the intrinsic merits of the song or the routine itself.
Perhaps the biggest problem lies with Terrence McNally s narrative, though. This relies heavily on flashbacks, and can often prove confusing, not to mention slightly disconcerting. You ve got the goose-flesh inducing sight, for example, of husband Dino (Martin Crewes) as a young man, snogging Anna, who is still playing the part of herself as an older woman.
Soper is convincing in the role of Mrs Antonelli, being able to summon up the sort of ballsy matriachal voice you d expect; and Kirkpatrick too, possesses a fine set of vocal chords. Another notable performer is Sevan Stephan who sings the ballad “Marry Me” as Lenny, and also plays the despicable Uncle Fausto. The high points of the score include a comedy ensemble called “The Apple Doesn't Fall Very Far From The Tree” sung by mother and daughter at the start of Act II; and a delightful opening number “Coloured Lights”, which is a soaring paean to the glory days of the rink, sung by Angel.
But there's no escaping the fact that this show deserves to play a larger (though not much larger) house. A bigger stage would benefit everyone, and ultimately prevent The Rink looking like it does - a quart poured into a pint pot.