Xanadu at the Southwark Playhouse
The Southwark Playhouse may not be the biggest of venues, but this production of Xanadu is larger than life. Based on the 1980s film flop starring Olivia Newton-John, Xanadu is a massively camp, laugh-out-loud musical comedy for all the family to enjoy.
Set at the peak of the 1980s, Samuel Edward plays Sonnie, a downcast artist from Venice Beach brooding over his latest creation, a colourful mural of a group of Greek muses who come to life in an attempt to inspire him to create the ultimate artwork: a roller disco, of all things. Head muse Clio (Carly Anderson) dons roller skates, leg-warmers and an unconvincing Australian accent to get close to Sonnie, in the hopes that if successful, Zeus will reward her with the legendary Xanadu – so legendary, in fact, that no one knows what it is. However, her cackling sisters hatch a jealous plan to trick Clio into falling in love with her mortal ward, one of the most unpardonable of sins in demigod law.
So much of Xanadu is annoying – the cheesy punch lines, the horrific accents, the collective overacting – but it’s acutely self-conscious. Writer Douglas Carter Beane employs razor-sharp wit, unafraid to poke fun at his own craft as well as the musical genre, his ludicrous plot soldiering on at a wicked, relentless pace. Xanadu is packed with inspired numbers, including adaptations of those known from the film alongside originals that embody laugh-a-minute comedy, with Newton-John’s 80s cult classic Physical thrown in for good measure. Impressively inventive choreography maintains the hilarity, with choreographer Nathan M Wright incorporating a range of props into his routines, which are pleasantly egalitarian and offer every member of the cast their share in the limelight. Although Xanadu enjoys knockout performances across the board, special mention is due to lead Carly Anderson, whose performance as Clio is expertly rendered; she’s a kitschy siren on wheels, knowingly droll and eccentrically captivating, holding the audience in the palm of her hand from start to finish.
Do not be perturbed by initial impressions. The premise will not appeal to everyone to be sure, and the early scenes will do little to alleviate these concerns. Xanadu begins in a bit of a hurry, the opening song a mad, shrill whirlwind that leaves its audience in a bit of a daze, but it soon finds its feet. Xanadu is a real crowd-pleaser, infectiously energetic and ferociously fun, a frenzy of postmodernism that will leave the delighted audience dancing in their seats.
Xanadu is on at Southwark Playhouse from 16th October until 21st November, for further information or to book visit here.