How I Learned to Drive – Southwark Playhouse until 14th March 2015

How I Learned to Drive

 

 

A great little play with a wonderful cast, exploring the challenges and dangers of growing up with family.

This was my first time at the new Southwark Playhouse, located a stone’s throw from Elephant & Castle on the delightful Newington Causeway. Despite the main road outside, it’s a great venue – a cross between the Young Vic and a back-to-basic Shoreditch bar, a quirky environment with personality which (thankfully) feels a million miles from the overpriced, soulless drinking options within West End theatres.

After the nice wine (£3.30 a glass! I’ll definitely be back…) we were ushered into the ‘Little’ theatre – they run two plays a night here, starting 30 minutes apart. A simple set took us back to 1960s Maryland and we were introduced to the world of L’il Bit, who told us the story of learing to grow up and her relationship with her Uncle Peck in fractured flashbacks.

In a way the cast mirrored the set – five fantastic individuals did a great job of fulfilling many purposes. Apart from Olivia Poulet (L’il Bit, you’ll recognise her from The Thick of It) and William Ellis (Uncle Peck), the ‘chorus’ jumped from one character to another, and did so to great effect, drawing vivid portraits of the difficult individuals that made up L’il Bit’s family and world.

How I Learned to Drive is tale of growing up, from a range of perspectives – as each piece of the jigsaw slots into place it becomes clear how and why each ended up as damaged and in the position they did. It’s a great play, excellently executed, telling a complex tale without slipping into the realm of the obscure. Highly recommended.

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Memphis – Shaftesbury Theatre (currently booking to October 2015)

Memphis

An energising explosion of song, colour and movement. This show will blast away the cobwebs and leave you desperate to come back for more.

I’d heard great things about this show – one of my friends has been three times already. Yet, when we turned up late, missing the first song after a series of disasters left us trekking across London at the 11th hour in the rain, the situation was definitely counting against me being able to sit back and relax into the theatre zone.

However, Memphis was so absorbing that I forgot all my woes as soon as we managed to nestle into our seats. The view was great (even from the fifth price spot) and the £20 spent via Lastminute.com feels like the best value that I’ve had from a West end performance in years. (See my review of the seats on Seatplan.com).

Beverley Knight is simply fantastic. Boy can that woman sing! She commands the stage, looking cute as a button but belting out the catchy tunes through a demanding set like a true pro. You’ll be transported back to the 1950s and pretty reluctant to crash back to reality at the end (although chances are that you’ll be singing ‘Someday’ for days to come).

This show is already booking right up to the end of October, and I can see it lasting longer if they can keep this up. Pure class.