Image: © Cameron Slater

A mafting hot, cramped space above a pub does not traditionally a magnificent theatrical experience make. My sentiments exactly deary, until I sat through one of the most thrilling little gems London’s Fringe has to offer and probably one of the best productions I have ever seen. 

Parade has done the rounds. First seen on Broadway in 1998 and previously staged here at the Donmar and Southwark Playhouse, it is based on a true, tragic story in which a quiet, timid Jewish man was wrongly accused and convicted of murdering one of his employees, a 13 year-old girl at his factory in early twentieth-century Georgia, USA. There’s an overlying, dominant theme of locality and belonging; a community that expects everyone to take part and one that, despite thinking it has it made, really just craves excitement and a break away from the ever comforting ‘norm’ through gang mentality. Is Parade outright anti-semitism? An all too familiar theme of marginalisation? The accused, Leo Frank’s Jewish identity doesn’t always seem to play an explicitly crucial role in his rapid downfall, rather the feeling that he is simply different (his strange facial expressions are looked at by one with hatred and disgust); that he is not one of the ‘gang’ is key. He misses his old home in New York where he claims ‘everyone is like him’. Is it not just possible to live aside from ‘society’ as it were? Couldn’t Frank have lived a peaceful life, away from these close-knit Southern values? Apparently not.

Throughout, his ordeal, Frank seems to accept his fate and much of the time doesn’t want to create a fuss. His wife, Lucille; a woman sexually and emotionally frustrated with the highly strung and neurotic ways of her unhappy husband is the true hero of Parade. Lily De-La-Haye’s performance of her is staggering. Like a ticking bomb, she initially sizzles slowly: an ordinary and content house wife, seemingly ill-suited to a clearly unhappy man. She wants to start a family, he would rather start a fire and jump in it than have sex with her. As the show proceeds, she explodes, taking control and fights for their relationship and his life. Much of Parade I watched De-La-Haye’s face closely. The conviction and passion in her face for Lucille – for herself is remarkable. A court scene, which sees her flung to the sides as everyone else is besides themselves with glee is a bit of a tingler. Her voice too, is beautiful.

Ross Barnes’s Leo completely captures the heartbreaking and frustratingly meagre efforts of a man who just wants to be left alone. Ironically, the events make him and his wife much closer with a later scene seeing Frank finally let go and completely transform. This particularly showcases Barnes’s versatility, not that it matters too much.

The entirety of the cast just make it painfully worth seeing theatre on the Fringe and should make anybody who thinks it less worthy than the West-End feel disgusting about themselves. Michael Molton and Samuel Clifford too, are standouts with the former having such ferocious sass that I nearly wet myself. Brilliant.

Whilst I did not run out singing Jason Robert Brown’s score, I know plenty who have named it one of the best musical soundtracks ever. The space holds the music and the voices spectacularly and the accompanying band are a lovely touch. Jody Trantor’s arrangement of the cast within a very intimate space and Harry Johnson and Justin Williams’s set is simple but really, and particularly here, couldn’t be improved.

I’d try and see this cast and company right now because with any luck, you’re going to have to pay a lot more money to do so very soon.

Parade is playing the London Theatre Workshop until September 13. For more information and tickets, see the London Theatre Workshop website.