Anyone Can Whistle at Southwark Playhouse
Anyone Can Whistle is a bizarre, outlandish parody of political corruption, the definition of madness and our human need to believe in miracles. Some lines fall flat and it’s hard to tell what’s going on at times, but some charismatic performances make this revival of Stephen Sondheim’s musical well worth watching.
Set in a fictional, run-down town where the only thriving business is The Cookie Jar, i.e. a mental asylum for the “socially pressured”, hated Mayoress Cora Hoover Hooper (Alex Young) needs a miracle to win the down-and-out townspeople’s trust. She gets her miracle when a large rock outside of town starts flowing with water and pilgrims (the audience) start paying to visit it.
The problem is that the “miracle” is really being powered by a hidden pump inside the rock, and when Nurse Fay Apple arrives to take her charges (the cookies) to partake in the waters, Hooper’s cronies led by Controller Shub (Danny Lane) must stop them to prevent everyone finding out the miracle is a fake when the water doesn’t cure the cookies. The lines between sanity and madness get blurred when young doctor J Bowden Hapgood (Jordan Broatch) arrives on the scene and the cookies blend into the audience, begging the question: who, if anyone, is mad? Is everyone mad?
Broatch has remarkable stage presence and oozes a magnetism that makes them a pure joy to watch. It’s hard to take your eyes off Broatch as they own the stage, bringing the audience as well as the townsfolk under their confusingly alluring spell. Alex Young (Hooper) is hysterical and can have the audience roaring with laughter over a raised eyebrow or a cleverly delivered line.
The costumes are colourful and strikingly weird – most noticeably Broatch’s bright lime green tracksuit trousers and psychedelic print top. You wouldn’t wear them yourself, but the clothes add to the unhinged, larger-than-life energy of the show. The stage is a long rectangle in the middle of the audience, which means theatregoers are close enough to see the sweat on Chief Police Officer Magruder’s (Renan Tedoro) face, yet the performers deal with the space limits well.
Anyone Can Whistle is a lot of fun, and the performers do well to make a script written in the 60s feel as modern and relevant as possible. The show starts off a little unevenly, but it really comes around in the end. It’s entertaining, but also provokes some big questions about the roles we play in life, the importance of “doing” and how fickle society’s attention can be.
Photo: Danny Kaan
Anyone Can Whistle is at Southwark Playhouse from 1st April until 7th May 2022. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.