Review of Working at the Southwark Playhouse

Working is an impressionistic hybrid of a musical: a bit like a verbatim documentary crossed with a musical revue, in which monologues and scenes are patched together to tell multiple stories about the real working lives of an extensive canvas of characters.

Based on verbatim interviews conducted by Studs Terkel for a book that was first published in 1974, it  features songs by six separate composers, that have been woven together with a moving and inspiring integrity. There's no narrative story, as such; but taken together, the songs and scenes cumulatively give feeling and texture to what the jobs people do means to their lives.

First briefly seen on Broadway in 1978, it has since been extensively updated and revised, with new songs added (notably by Hamilton composer Lin-Manuel Miranda), and this version is now receiving its UK premiere. Director Luke Sheppard and choreographer Fabian Aloise have made another authentic intervention to give extra shape to it: they've underscored it with six young newly qualified musical theatre graduates acting as listeners to the tales being told by a wonderful troupe of six more experienced actors. The young troupe also provide fluent illustrative dance accompaniment.

So it is never dull or dry; and there are moving juxtapositions of age and experience on display, too. A really fine cast is led by West End veteran Peter Polycarpou, who made me cry with his version of Stephen Schwartz's Fathers and Sons, with Gillian Bevan's magnificent performance as a waitress in It's an Art, also by Schwartz, about the life of a waitress, could make you cry with laughter.

There are also immensely powerful vocal performances from Dean Chisnall, Krysten Cummings, Liam Tame and Siubhan Harrison to make this one of the best sung shows in town; and a six-piece band under Isaac McCullough lend them superb accompaniment.

The show is a rare and evocative fringe pleasure.

Working is at the Southwark Playhouse until 8th July 2017.

Originally published on

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