Apart from almost soiling myself when Sissy Spacek’s hand reached out from the grave in the 1976 Brian de Palma movie, and knowing there’s a book about famous musical flops called ‘Not Since Carrie …’ I’d been pretty much unexposed to the show by writers of Footloose and Fame Dean Pitchford and Michael Gore.

We’re back in the Southwark Playhouse happy space of reviving, either in-house or here with prolific young producer Paul Taylor-Mills, shows which tanked on Broadway and giving them fresh energy in a more initimate format where the book music and lyrics can maybe speak for themselves.

Despite the committed talents of the cast, and the spendy production values including ‘Flying by Foy’ which I always find exciting in a theatre programme, the truth in the case of Carrie is they have nothing to say. The book, by Lawrence D Cohen, strips Stephen King’s gripping debut epistolary novel of depth and complexity until you’re left with the banal bones of a High School Musical, and the generic pop-rock score won’t have you Spotify-ing it when you get home.

Director Gary Lloyd‘s decision to update the 70’s story of a bullied teen with psychic powers defeats its own purpose: 21st century Heathers hack your Facebook feed or spike your school lunch with animal tranquilizer before shoving a pickle in your rectum, so a bit of name-calling and tampon throwing looks frankly amateur.

And get those teenage boys hazing (NSFW) in a locker room if you really want to pull in the crowds.

Evelyn Hoskins‘ Carrie is a perfect study of round-shouldered green-cardiganed misery and she maintains focus and sings both her ballads and soul number outstandingly well, but it takes too long for the story to unfold or her powers to be unleashed so she’s left staring determinedly from under her ginger fringe for over an hour. The other young characters don’t emerge distinctly from the teenage soup swirling around her, although Jodie Jacobs hits the mark assuredly as Miss Gardner, the gym teacher here presented with a subtly Sapphic twist.

Salvation – in all its forms – is found in the power and the glory of Kim Criswell’s barnstorming performance as Carrie’s fundamentalist Christian mother, first so sweetly intoning hymns that you wish for a moment the action could stop and you could listen to Kim sing gospel for the rest of the night, and then, once Carrie defies her, mountingly, thrillingly full-voiced throughout right up to the grand guignol of the blood soaked climax.

Set aside any issues with the book: Criswell alone is worth the ticket price, but with Hoskins and the rest of an energetic cast, the superb special effects and the copious spillage of gore, you really don’t want to miss out.

 

@paulinlondon and I made an AudioBoom straight out of the theatre.  Listen here.