It is difficult to imagine what to expect from a musical about a dilapidated roller skating rink. It is also difficult to imagine said musical being housed in the petite Southwark Playhouse. Will they have space to skate, will there even be skating I asked myself as I sat down. Despite these improbabilities, John Kander and Fred Ebb’s music (Chicago, The Scottsboro Boys), Bec Chippendale’s stage design and Adam Lenson’s direction, meld together forming a piece bursting with raw emotion, hilarity and ‘Oom-pah-pah’.
The musical explores the relationship between mother Anna (Caroline O’Connor) and her estranged daughter Angel (Gemma Sutton) on the eve of the demolition of their family’s roller rink. Having sold the rink to developers, Anna is stopped from leaving to catch her flight by the return of her flower child daughter who demands that the demolition be halted. The Rink cleverly uses the opposing characteristics of its leads and the duality of their recollection of the rink and the memories it houses to show the audience that the truth is somewhere blurred in the middle. Anna is a tough matriarch who was always the prettiest girl in town; to her the rink represents a lifetime of regret, self-denial and wasted potential. Angel, less confident, worldly and well-travelled, remembers its warmth and familial comfort.
Both O’Connor and Sutton give fantastic performances, drifting between playing themselves in the present and in the past, with comedic chemistry and elusive familial intimacy. Both have numerous standout vocal performances throughout the piece with Sutton’s rendition of ‘Coloured Lights’ bringing vulnerability to a character who, until that point, had been spoilt and entitled and O’Connor bringing the house down in her introductory performance of ‘Chief Cook and Bottle Washer’. Kander and Ebb’s score is beautiful, channelling the nostalgia of the boardwalk and the summer of love, through lyrics filled with regret and longing.
The hilarious ensemble cast of demolition men are a valuable gem in this piece, playing family members, ex-lovers and ex-colleagues. Their performance of ‘The Rink’ and dance number in roller skates is one of the highlights of the musical. Stewart Clarke particularly shines as the unreliable Dino, promising magic and presents from the moon for his family whilst simultaneously pushing them away. Chippendale’s set conveys the faded glory of the rink (or quarter of the rink) allowing the audience to imagine the smiling faces that once glided on it. And through lighting, Matt Daw is able to create magic.
The Rink is beautiful, bathing its audience in multi-coloured nostalgia whilst tugging at their heartstrings. To quote, the apple doesn’t fall “you open a tea bag, there’s gonna be tea”, when you see a Kander and Ebb musical, you’ll walk away with glee.
The Rink is playing at the Southwark Playhouse until 23 June
Photo: Darren Bell