Superhero at Southwark PlayhouseCultureTheatre
An ambitious one-man-musical, Superhero is a clever and moving portrayal of an unfaltering fatherly love that is deeply threatened by the out-dated values of an otherwise modern society. Delivered with raw emotion and powerful energy by Michael Rouse, this is a captivating production, stripped-back in its technical approach and made chillingly personal by the intimate setting of the Southwark Playhouse.
Directed by Adam Lenson, the play centres around a doting father, Colin, who, following a painful divorce, faces the prospect of losing his daughter when his ex-wife decides to move to America. Staged in a family courtroom, we hear Colin nervously and inarticulately appeal to a judge for continued contact with his daughter, Emily, while regularly breaking the fourth wall in direct-to-audience retellings of the joys and travails of parenthood that have led him to this point.
A dynamic performer, renowned for roles in the Tony Award-winning musical Matilda and Kenneth Branagh’s critically acclaimed production of Romeo and Juliet, Rouse’s portrayal of a stuttering Everyman captures the perfect protagonist for a modern-day audience that is able to emphasise with every mistake, challenge and frustration that has led to the breakdown of his relationship. Struggling with the prospect of losing his daughter despite being the main care-giver in the family, throughout the performance we uncomfortably hear of Colin’s solicitor “Rupert, the bell-end” painfully advising him not to get emotional in court: “Whatever you do, don’t tell the judge you love your daughter”.
As an audience, it is hard to empathise with this advice, seeing directly – and with real conviction – the emotion Colin feels. We are navigated through every stage of the character’s happy and close relationship with Emily, with the lyrics only gently touching on harder matters: from infidelity to injustice and political unrest. For this reason, the score remains consistently upbeat, with conversational lyrics adding powerful meaning to the cheery, playful direction, seen particularly in You Got Me and All American Dad, where he comes to terms with the prospect of Emily growing up around another father figure.
Culminating in the Stiles and Drewe prize-winning song Don’t Look Down we see Colin scale a London landmark in a Superhero costume, in a defiant act of protest, resembling that of the Fathers 4 Justice movement that has caught press attention in past years. It’s a hard-hitting end to an otherwise delicate narrative; however, this doesn’t ultimately feel like a political performance – and rightly so, as any further statement perhaps wouldn’t translate to the changing social make-up of today’s liberal youth. Instead, this smart production keeps things very simple and appeals instead to themes of love and relationships, lifting the audience with dynamic stage direction and a hoppy score that portrays the ever-present struggles of parenthood with real heart.
Photo: Alex Brenner
Superhero is at Southwark Playhouse from 28th June until 22nd July 2017. For further information or to book visit here.
Watch the trailer for Superhero here: