Southwark Playhouse: The A-Z of Mrs P – Performance review

Sandor (Michael Matus) and Mrs P (Isy Suttie) (Credit: Jane Hobson)

Sandor (Michael Matus) and Mrs P (Isy Suttie) (Credit: Jane Hobson)

Star rating
By Sarah Lambie, TD editor

There are hundreds of new British musicals in development at any one time, and on all sorts of obscure and imaginative topics. Sadly it is usually only those thought to have some major commercial value which make it all the way to a full production in a reputable theatre space. I say sadly because commercial value rarely serves as a marker for quality: witness Viva Forever!, the Spice Girls musical.

That a little show about the lady who developed the A-Z by walking the streets of London and drawing everything herself should have made it to the Southwark Playhouse with a variously award-winning star cast is a wonderful testament to the work of its writers Diane Samuels (of Kindertransport) and jazz musician and singer/songwriter Gwyneth Herbert.

The show is a delight. A moving storyline about a real family (though Phyllis Pearsall was notably something of an inventor of truths, so everything is to be taken with a smidgeon of salt); the portrayals of Phyllis’s exuberant and troubled parents by Michael Matus and Frances Ruffelle are particularly brilliant. I was unsure at first about Isy Suttie’s Mrs P, who seemed vocally too quiet, and stylistically too understated to carry either the audience’s interest or concern, but her characterisation really grew on me, and I appreciated her naturalism particularly in the context of two beautiful solo songs: award-winning ‘Lovely London Town’, and ‘A Girl Needs a Husband’.

THE A TO Z OF MRS P, Southwark Playhouse, London, UK.

Mrs P (Isy Suttie) and the cast of The A-Z of Mrs P (Credit: Jane Hobson)

The set design is beautiful, and the production is a good example for students of what one can do with a collaborative process to create ensemble-based sets and atmospheres: involving actor-made sound effects, for example, in not too clichéd a manner.

For me, the joy of the piece is in the writing – the way in which the cast slip from dialogue into song and out again with puns, plays on the alphabet and street names, and beautiful imagery would be particularly inspiring for any budding playwrights. The reworking of the same essential character to play all of London’s service-providing men: taxi drivers, delivery men, newspaper sellers, and so on, is a particularly nice touch, and played with a twinkle by Ian Caddick.

The show runs only until 29 March at the Southwark Playhouse, but I feel sure that it will have a life hereafter, and I certainly recommend it.

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Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Stephen Ward the musical to close in early

The curtain is to fall on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s latest show Stephen Ward, a musical interpretation of the Profumo scandal, after less than four months following disappointing ticket sales. The musical, which cost £2.5m to stage, opened at the Aldwych Theatre on 19 December.

Untitled jStephen Ward producer Robert Fox said in a statement: ‘I am very sad to see the show close in London but firmly believe this piece will be seen by many audiences in the future.’

In response to the criticism the show had received, Lloyd Webber said in a letter to The Telegraph: ‘The difference between success and failure in musical theatre is a horrifyingly fine line. However, I believe that if you choose a subject purely because it appears commercial, catastrophe looms’.

According to statistics from The Society of London Theatre, out of the 24 longest-running shows on London’s West End, five are Andrew Lloyd Webber productions (Details correct as of November 2013: The Phantom of the Opera, Cats, Starlight Express, Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita).

Stephen Ward runs at the Aldwych Theatre until 29 March