MUSICAL REVIEW: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button ★★★★★
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Southwark Playhouse, London
Wednesday 15th May - Saturday 8th June 2019
When I was younger, an annual camping trip to Cornwall was always on the agenda and became one of the main highlights of the year. Then as I've grown older those family holidays have since become a distant memory, until tonight. Stepping into The Little at Southwark Playhouse, the atmosphere and soundscape of the ocean hitting against the rocks, with decked staging, wooden crates and lifebuoy attached to the side, all beautiful designed Schönlatern, brought all those forgotten memories flooding back, just the one exception being that there wasn't a cone of chips within my hand.
Turning The Curious Case of Benjamin Button into a musical frankly sounds daunting, but this adaption from Jethro Compton Productions is anything but of a worry within the first few moments of the performance, as the angelic, beautiful voices from the actor musicians bring this tale of an 80 year old man physically living his life backwards to life with so much heart and overwhelming emotion. There is not one single weak link to this show which has been stunning created for the stage from all departments. The beautiful, makeshift puppetry which appears frequently throughout is brought together by the cast and captivating; it charts the many different stages of Button's deteriorating age, and the nice touch of the green emerald necklace to signify the role of Benjamin is a beautiful touch.
The Music & Lyrics from Darren Clark are astonishing and written in a sense that truly brings every song to the forefront in sheer storytelling and not just used to fill a moment of silence, where 'A Little Life', which charts Benjamin's desire to get out and live the life he wants to lead no matter how old as we are introduced to him at the beginning of his life, a showstopper and highlight, with many of us humming along together following the performance. This mixed with 'Castles in the Sand', which has a bittersweet reprise, displays the underlying talents of Clark to be able to pull at the heartstrings using the exact same song but changing it up so effortlessly that it breaks us within seconds of all our defences.
To bring the Cornish seas to the West End to life is no mean feat, and the cast of this production you can see harvest every moment on stage and enjoy each little moment and interaction with the audience; The intimacy within the space heightens the emotions and makes you feel a part of the setting and movement on stage, that my only hope for when the inevitable transfer for this show occurs, as it would be a real shame to see this musical not to gage a permanent home in the future, is that this vital part of what makes this show so unique and inspiring is kept. I have never stood so fast for a standing ovation in all my years watching theatre, and along with the rest of the audience who clearly felt the same, you can see it continues to blow the cast on stage away, before we sit in awe again as them produce the encore, which has us all stomping away along with them.
Overall, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is quite possibly the most slick, upbeat musical about the boundaries of love and unlikely friendships, without shying away from home truths and making us realise that no matter how far away you are or the constant changing surroundings around you, home is where the heart lies, and bounded together, we will all be okay.