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Theatre review: Parade 
17th-Aug-2011 10:58 pm
When I heard the Southwark Playhouse were reviving Parade it seemed very soon after the last London production, but checking my LJ reveals the Donmar's UK premiere was actually four years ago - time flies when you're blogging about it I guess, plus I do remember being strongly affected by that production. The venue may be under threat but they're obviously not letting this stop their ambition, having recently begun staging musicals they now put this one in their smaller auditorium, The Vault. Rather an unusual decision not just because of capacity but as The Vault is a large railway tunnel that splits into two smaller ones it's got to be murder on the acoustics for a musical - the solution is to amplify the hell out of it, which isn't always conducive to the clarity of the lyrics and can be a bit oppressive in the louder numbers.

Director Thom Southerland goes for a traverse staging which is for the most part pretty effective, the whole length of the stage gets used over the course of the evening and only for the odd moment was our view blocked. Alastair Brookshaw leads the cast as Leo Frank, a New York Jewish man who moved to Atlanta and was a suspect when a 13-year-old girl who worked for him was murdered. In his subsequent trial and conviction, the locals' prejudices come out in force as the town conspires to take him down with hearsay and blatantly fabricated evidence. But one thing the production makes nicely clear is the complex layers to this prejudice - the fact of Frank being a "yankee" in a time when Civil War wounds still feel fresh is as much a reason to single him out as his religion. Well-sung and well-danced by a relatively large cast still having to do a lot of doubling, Laura Pitt-Pulford is very moving as Leo's wife. Christopher was my theatre companion tonight and, unfamiliar with the show, his comment was that the few "big numbers" were perhaps not quite big enough to stand out (this is very much music as storytelling in the Sondheim style, rather than music as showstoppers) but that the production deserved a bigger venue and next time the show's revived he'd be interested to see a different take on it. Personally although the ending came close to affecting me as much as the last production I saw it didn't quite get there, possibly because of a couple of late directorial choices by Southerland that I wasn't quite convinced by (including him "solving" Mary Phagan's murder in the final flashback: As I recall, the murderer's identity remains a mystery to this day - though there was no actual evidence against Frank, it's still not entirely certain that he was innocent, just that the reasons for his conviction were a travesty of justice.)

Parade by Jason Robert Brown and Alfred Uhry is booking until the 17th of September at Southwark Playhouse Vault.
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