REVIEW: The Life at Southwark Playhouse

Reviewed by Nathan Deane

This review may be slightly late, the show may have a few weeks left, BUT this is a show not to be missed.

The Life tells the story of the seedy underworld of New York City in the 80’s, most prominently it tells the story of Queen, a prostitute, and her failing relationship with ex-soldier Theodore. The songs are woven together by small sections of dialogue and acting.

The book, by David Newman, Ira Gasman and Cy Coleman (revisions by Michael Blakemore) doesn’t stand out at all in this piece. It’s a needed piece of the show, and the show couldn’t flow without it but it was just so dull. What does stand out about the piece are the songs. The music and lyrics, by Cy Coleman and Ira Gasman really express the characters in a very tasteful way, yet the music doesn’t take away from the energy of the gogo dancers, strippers and prostitutes.

The most memorable song from the piece was “My Body” which is sung by the prostitutes, Chi Chi, Sonja, Carmen, April, Tracy, and Queen, played by Jalisa Andrews, Sharon D. Clarke, Aisha Jawando, Charlotte Reavey, Lucinda Shaw and T’Shan Williams, respectively, about how their bodies are their own properties and how they choose to use it (in this case, selling it) is not anyone else’s business. I found this number extremely empowering and I’ve not heard prostitutes being talked about in such a positive way in musical theatre. I loved it.

The standout performance for me was T’Shan Williams as Queen. She played the role with such great emotion, and she made the most of what was, essentially, a bland script. Her vocals were seriously on point in all of her songs and I couldn’t fault her performance whatsoever.

The other awesome woman in this performance was Sharon D. Clarke as Sonja, an aging prostitute who realises “the life” isn’t what it used to be. Her vocals were sensational and she really made the part her own throughout the piece. She was comedic when she needed to be as well as serious during the darker moments of the show.

Cornell S. John played Memphis, a ruthless and brutal pimp to the ring of prostitutes. He was horrifying, and sitting front row I could really the tension on stage whenever he walked on. His vocals, again, were really something and he had the right mix of frighening and funny.

The choreography was another extremely strong part of the show. From the very beginning we’re introduced to the bustling streets of New York and the dancing was brilliant. Excellently choreographed by Tom Jackson-Graves, each little part of choreography was insanely detailed, from a shoe shine to a strip club.

Director Michael Blakemore returns to The Life after directing the show on Broadway way back in 1997. The direction was brilliant…from what we could see from it. The direction was really focused towards the front so anyone sat on one of the sides like we were usually gets the back of heads or sides of faces, however we could tell what the performers were doing because of their body language and that was an extremely strong point I felt throughout the whole show. Blakemore has directed them to have such amazing body language so that even when the character isn’t singing, dancing or saying anything you could tell exactly how they were feeling.

Overall, this show was brilliant. A little bit rough on the edges but it is very worthy of a West End transfer and if it doesn’t transfer they’ll be getting some very angry emails from me. Don’t miss this phenomenal show.

Nathan xoxo

The Life runs at Southwark Playhouse until 29th April 2017. 

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