Sunday, 8 May 2016

'The Toxic Avenger' at Southwark Playhouse

Southwark Playhouse seems to enjoy putting on UK premieres of American musicals and the latest is 'The Toxic Avenger' based on the film from the '80s. I've never seen the film or the stage version so this was a very tentative dip of my toe into the toxicity of the thing. It's good that Southwark Playhouse is willing to take risks and attract new audiences and, after premiering 'Xanadu' last year and reviving 'Grand Hotel' it's becoming a favourite venue. Particularly since it has also finally embraces the 21st century and now has allocated seating to avoid the silly queues of people wanting to get good seats. Well done - you know it makes sense. So, 'The Toxic Avenger' - what's it about?

The play is set in a small New Jersey town where the corrupt mayor happily imports toxic waste for back-handers and power. It's the Toxic Avenger's job to put an end to this and restore justice. Enter the town geek bemoaning the toxic waste and his secret love, Sarah the blind librarian that the mayor has entrusted the town records to. She tells the geek where the records are and he finds out what the mayor is up to and confronts her. Uh oh, big mistake. She hires the town bullies to teach him a lesson and they drop him into a vat of waste that mutates him into a super-strong green monster. He rips off their arms and legs in revenge and the librarian falls for him. Then comes the task of saving the town and bringing the mayor and the polluters to justice. Phew, it's action packed and fast moving and there's a lot going on.

So, here we have it, a serious dramatic exploration of ecological issues in the modern day and the motivations behind both sides of the argument. Um no, we have a raucous, rude and very funny musical comedy with lots of choons and madcap scenes. It's great fun and terribly un-PC, particularly with virtually every reference to Sarah the blind librarian, dropping her white stick and hunting round for it, trying to get off stage without the stick and, at one point, commenting that she's creating time for some quick costume changes behind the scenes.

The cast of five people mostly play multiple roles, appearing as one character only to disappear and reappear moments later as someone else, particularly the two lads who play everything from the local school bullies, a folk singer, policemen, hairdressers and polluting businessmen. Marc Pickering and Ashley Samuels were excellent and great fun as the two dudes. Mark Anderson played the geek and Toxie, the Toxic Avenger. Hannah Grover was Sarah and Lizzii Hills as the evil, dastardly mayor.

It's a great evening out and great fun - I really enjoyed it!  You could do a lot worse than get tickets to this show while it's on...

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