There are few musicals more notorious than Carrie, a show first premiered in 1988 by none other than the Royal Shakespeare Company before transferring to Broadway, where it crashed and burned (in every sense) after just five performances. There's even a brilliant book about flop musicals that's called "Not Since Carrie" that itemises all the big Broadway flops up to then, so it has literally been not only written into the history books but also put into one of its titles.
It closed on Broadway registering the greatest financial loss ever sustained up to then of some $8m (that's of course small potatoes now, compared to the $75m that Spiderman - Turn off the Dark spent and most of which was written off).
Now, as it receives its London premiere in a far, far more inexpensive (and substantially streamlined) production at the fringe Southwark Playhouse, the show is still not without problems — but it's also much more than a curiosity to be collected by purveyors of theatrical disasters only (It is, in other words, no Viva Forever! or Stephen Ward).
The chief of those problems is tone: the show wildly oscillates between being a jaunty teenager saga — something between High School Musical, Grease and Glee — and a far more intense dramatic exploration of a deeply troubled and troubling relationship between a controlling, religious single parent and her timid, cowed daughter.
But Gary Lloyd's new production embraces both extremes with unbounded energy (on the one hand) and searing intimacy (on the other) so that the show lands beautifully in the middle without too many jarring bumps.
That's largely thanks to the thrilling levels of energy and commitment that the entire ensemble bring to it. It is grounded by performances of extreme intensity and vulnerability respectively from Kim Criswell and Evelyn Hoskins as the mother and daughter. But there's also terrific supporting work from Sarah McNicholas, Gabriella Williams and Greg Miller-Burns as various classmates of Carrie's, Jodie Jacobs and David Habbin as two school teachers and great dancing from the ensemble that includes Dex Lee, Bobie Little, Emily McGougan, Patrick Sullivan, Olly Dobson, Eddie Myles and Molly McGuire.
The result is bloody marvellous — in every sense.
"... there is lots to enjoy here, particularly those scenes featuring Carrie’s mother Margaret (stage veteran Kim Criswell)."
Rebecca Hawkes for The Daily Telegraph
"The attempt to update the story to the present day stretches credulity, but the saving grace is Evelyn Hoskins’ mesmerising, exquisitely centred performance as the flame-haired teenage avenger whose awakening desire to fit in with the crowd only sets her further apart."
Lyn Gardner for The Guardian