The chequered history of Carrie the Musical, based on Stephen King’s novel and Brian de Palma’s 1976 film, is something of a horror story. The show premiered in Stratford upon Avon in 1988, then transferred to Broadway where it closed after only 21 performances. The show has developed a cult reputation among fans of musical theatre.
A new version, revised by original composer Michael Gore, was showcased in 2012, and Gary Lloyd’s production at the Southwark Playhouse marks its London premiere. This theatre has a reputation for strong productions of lesser-known or less successful musicals, and this production of Carrie lives up to that reputation. I was expecting to enjoy the production as an OTT display of camp; I was not expecting a production that moved me, and explored the story as a tragedy.
Set, mostly, in the unforgiving atmosphere of an American high school, the show is the story of teenage Carrie, a troubled girl with a religious fanatic for a mother and bullies who hound and persecute her, pelting her with tampons when she has her first period and laughing when she doesn’t know what’s happening. Carrie begins to develop telekinetic powers, which she famously unleashes when a fellow student’s attempts to help her go horribly wrong. With lyrics by Dean Pitchford and a book by Lawrence D. Cohen, the show explores what it’s like to be a teenager alone in a hostile world.
As Carrie, Evelyn Hoskins is simply superb: entering with shoulders hunched and hair draped over her face, she is the embodiment of an awkward, frightened teenager. And yet, when she sings, she exudes defiance and a growing awareness of herself. As the show develops and Carrie grows in confidence, Hoskins raises her head and opens up, transforming, in the prom scene, into a beautiful young woman.
The supporting cast are also excellent. Kim Criswell plays Carrie’s mother with a devout fanaticism that nevertheless leaves you in no doubt that she genuinely loves her daughter. She has a wonderful singing voice too. Sarah McNicholas is also very good as Sue, the popular girl with a conscience who begins to befriend Carrie, and whose interrogation, as a survivor of the events of that fateful prom night, bookends the show, adding structure and a sense of impending doom.
Many of Carrie’s schoolmates are young performers straight out of drama school: one to watch is Gabriella Williams as Chris, the bitchy ringleader, and the cast as a whole exudes confidence and energy. The set design is simple but effective, and if the climactic prom sequence doesn’t quite create the impact it should, it is still pretty impressive for such a small theatre. The score is catchy, with an eighties-pop-rock influence and a good mix of slower numbers and ensemble tunes. I left with several melodies stuck in my head and a firm intention to buy the soundtrack.
I hope Carrie has a life after this production – it’s an excellent show that doesn’t deserve to be remembered as a Broadway flop.