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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Winners of 2014 Off West End Awards revealed

The winners of the 2014 Off West End Awards, known as The Offies, have been announced. This year’s ceremony took place on 2 March and was hosted by Unicorn Theatre.

The offiesSouthwark Playhouse’s musical production Titanic came away as this year’s big winner with four prizes: best lighting designer, best choreographer, best costume designer and best musical production. Phoebe Waller-Bridge also had an impressive evening as she was awarded for best female performance and named most promising new playwright for her one-woman show Fleabag at Soho Theatre.

The award for best production for young people was shared by the ceremony’s host Unicorn Theatre for their production of Cinderella, which was co-produced with Travelling Light and The Tobacco, and Polka Theatre, who won for children’s theatre company Cahoots NI’s production Egg.

According to Off West End’s website, The Offies ‘help raise the profile and status of independent theatres in London by giving them greater power to promote their work individually and collectively and to reward the new talent that they nurture and that is essential to the future of our theatre industry.’

In a first, following this year’s awards the winners as part of their prize will receive advice from a industry experts in taking the next steps in their career. Industry figures taking part this year include the Young Vic’s artistic director David Lan, forthcoming National Theatre director Rufus Norris, and producer Sonia Friedman.

The full list of Off West End Award winners for 2014:

Best female performance
Phoebe Waller-Bridge for Fleabag at Soho Theatre

Best male performance
Jamie Samuel for Jumpers for Goalposts at the Bush Theatre

Best new play
The Match Box by Frank McGuinness at the Tricycle Theatre

Most promising new playwright
Phoebe Waller-Bridge for Fleabag at Soho Theatre

Best director
Michael Strassen for Billy at the Union Theatre

Best producer
Sasha Regan at the Union Theatre

Best artistic director
David Byrne at the New Diorama Theatre

Best lighting designer
Howard Hudson for Titanic (Southwark Playhouse) and Lizzie Siddal (Arcola Theatre)

Best sound designer
Ben and Max Ringham for Ring at Battersea Arts Centre

Best set designer
Oliver Townsend for Grounded at the Gate Theatre

Best costume designer
David Woodhead for Lizzie Siddal at the Arcola Theatre and Titanic at Southwark Playhouse

Best choreographer
Cressida Carre for Titanic at Southwark Playhouse

Best ensemble
Simple8 for Moby Dick and The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (both Arcola Theatre)

Best production
Grounded at the Gate Theatre

Best musical production
Titanic at Southwark Playhouse

Best new musical
Glasgow Girls at Theatre Royal Stratford East

Best opera production
Puppet Opera Triple Bill by Third Hand at the Rosemary Branch

Best production for young people
Cinderella at the Unicorn Theatre co-produced with Travelling Light and The Tobacco Factory; Egg by Cahoots NI at Polka Theatre

Best TBC production (for shows that do not fall within other categories)
Tomorrow’s Parties by Forced Entertainment at Battersea Arts Centre

Special panel award
The Yard

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