The Vaults at Southwark Playhouse act as a virtually site specific location for this unusual musical about a caver trapped underground in Kentucky in 1925. Sometimes a show is better than the sum of its parts and this is the case here. None of the songs are instantly memorable, not helped by a tricky sound system, the performances are variable and any tension about the outcome is ruined by a banner headline on the front of the programme. On top of all this the seats are fiendishly hard and uncomfortable and played havoc with my back. Despite all this it proved to be a highly enjoyable evening with a cast and surprisingly large band clearly committed to the piece. Glenn Carter does well in the title role which involves lying on the concrete floor for long periods, which must be even worse than the chairs. Robyn North is impish and touching as his unstable but devoted sister even if the songs do not suit her usual light soprano. Best of all is Ryan Sampson as a reporter who never loses sight of the need to focus on the rescue of Floyd as all alround him turns into a media circus (there are echoes of the Fabrice Muamba situation who, on Saturady evening, was being discussed as if he had actually died). I'm not sure that Floyd Collins is a great musical but in such an atmospheric setting it feels like a very good one. - David Baxter
22 Mar 12
The last time I went to Southwark Playhouse, it was to see a musical called Parade I hadnít really rated at the Donmar three years before but loved second time round. Well, now its the other way round Ė I loved this at the Bridewell 13 years ago, yet Iím now not so sure itís a good show (though it is a good production).
Adam Guettel & Tina Landauís musical tells the true story of a man who is trapped in a cave in Kentucky for several days in 1925 whilst seeking out a new entrance to the show cave he and his family own. A young cub reporter picks up the story and it travels like wild-fire, capturing the imagination of the whole country. A media circus and a commercial carnival ensues, a local mining executive tries to take over the rescue and the family bicker.
The Vaults, Southwark Playhouseís space in the arches under London Bridge station, is a superb location for a show largely set in a cave Ė though this does bring some acoustic problems they donít entirely overcome, and a distance from the audience which doesnít help you engage with the story and characters. Derek Bondís staging is imaginative and James Perkins evocative design and Sally Fergusonís atmospheric lighting cleverly use just eighteen ladders and some rope & boxes.
The score is beautifully played, under MD Tim Jackson, by a lovely combination of string quartet, acoustic guitar / banjo, harmonica and percussion and the performances are uniformly good. Ryan Sampson contrast his superb performance in the Kitchen Sink recently at the Bush with a completely different but equally superb one as the dimunitive cub reporter Skeets. The role of Floyd is a tough one Ė it carries the first 15 minutes virtually alone yet there are long scenes overground where heís silent Ė and the excellent Glenn Carter works hard but doesnít quite pull it off. I very much liked Kit Benjamin as the mine owner Carmichael and Gareth Chart as brother Homer and the three reporters Ė Vlach Ashton, Dayle Hodge and Roddy Peters Ė bring some much-needed fizz in their Ďchorusí number.
Itís hard to imagine a better venue or a more talented cast, band and creative team, yet it ultimately fails because the subject matter, the story and the sub-operatic score just arenít good enough. I didnít feel engaged and the music only occasionally impressed. I felt I was observing a piece of work, not involved in the tale.
These second looks do confound sometimes! - Gareth James
06 Mar 12
Best £10 I've spent, this is worth catching. Unusual musical about a man called Floyd Collins trapped in a cave
The music is different and complicated, american blue grass influenced and the pretty lady in the band told me she plays 4 different Harmonicas! Glenn Carter sings and acts superbly in the leading role as he always does and is supported by an excellent cast. This theatre is in a railway arch at London Bridge and it certainly is the perfect place to recreate the atmosphere of the Kentucky Cave where our hero is trapped. You will feel for this character of Floyd Collins especially when he remains trapped on stage during the interval while you and the rest of the audience head off to the bar for drinks. Tickets are inexpensive. Go and see it while you have the chance as they have a lot of unsold seats and the place really should be full!
06 Mar 12
Although overlong, there are moments of real inpiration, drama and beauty here. Ryan Sampson is absolutely fantastic, adding to the drama of every scene he's in, such is his ability to empathise with poor Floyd Collin's plight, and convey that to the audience in a realistic way with his nimble frame and expressive darting eyes. He completely fulfils the excellent promise he showed in "The Kichen Sink." Glenn Carter is beautiful to look at, in a '70's Doug McClure-David Essex kind of way, and he is a wonderful leading man, bringing dynamism and great pathos to a bright spirit felled by cruel fate. Robyn North, as Floyd Collin's sister, Nellie, is moving (and one of the strongest singers too) as a girl who foolishly believes everything will be alright. The songs about journalistic misconduct pack an extra punch in today's febrile journalistic atmosphere, though I can't say I can remember the songs despite, enjoying them at the time. - steveatplays
05 Mar 12
Brilliant show, lovely to see a musical in such a small theatre and so atmospheric, if a little cold!
Glenn Carter was fabulous and truly sang his heart out. He has a beautiful voice as do many of the very strong cast.
It's one not to be missed, you have until the 31st March!
05 Mar 12
Absolutely superb in every respect. I was floored to see a cast of such strength, a first-rate band, and direction that used the space perfectly. I count this among the best productions I've seen in 40 years of theater-going. - DW
05 Mar 12
I agree with Coveney but would add that sitting on a plastic chair in a cold very damp space made for a very unpleasant experience. The problem, I fear, is with the book. I felt no empathy with Floyd, who is essentially a bit part player in his own show. - Richard Voyce
05 Mar 12
Upsettingly dreadful. Granted that this is one of the most musically complicated scores, and i really really love this show, but what i saw was some sub-par school production. There's absolutely no subtlety in it. The design, although promises much, delivers nothing. the show is misunderstood, and directed like some tits-and-teeth extravaganza rather than a play with music. Anyone who saw PARADE here last year will be bitterly disappointed as the production values are low, band a little shaky (loved the harmonica player however) and more to the point, demonstrated acting, especially form Glenn Carter, who insists on turning out and jazz handing his way through the last weeks of a dying man. I see that i'm probably alone in thinking this, but i expect more form such an exceptional show. - Cassox
29 Feb 12
With Glenn Carter heading a musical whose score was written by Adam Guettel, I had high hopes about this production of Floyd Collins. I was certainly not disappointed!
This atmospheric production took the audience through a whole range of emotions, from the elation felt by Floyd Collins' anticipation of his dream project, through the anxiety, hope and torment provided by the rescue attempts, the disgust at the media circus that had evolved from Floyd's tragic misfortune, culminating in the extreme distress felt by Floyd's family and the heartbreak of the incomprehensible outcome.
The acting, singing, score, staging and venue were superb, with a plaintive harmonica adding extra atmosphere.
This is altogether a theatre experience not to be missed.
I have already booked my return visit!
- Lynne McCulloch
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