One of Stephen Sondheim’s rarely performed musicals, Anyone Can Whistle is a political satire set in a fictional town. The absurdist story follows mayoress Cora Hoover Hooper (Alex Young) and her government who create a fake ‘miracle’ to try to dig the town out of bankruptcy. The only successful ‘business’ is the local asylum, the Cookie Jar, whose nurse Fay Apple (Chrystine Symone) wants to do her best by her ‘cookies’ but cannot break from the comfort of conformity, until she meets the mysterious Dr Hapgood (Jordan Broatch).
The show is completely bizarre, but the cast give 100% to the craziness which allows the audience to roll with it too. It’s definitely worth a quick google of the plot before seeing the show, as there are a few moments where lack of differentiation in costume or staging mean that some elements are unclear, but on the whole director Georgie Rankcom does a fantastic job of giving the show new contexts to help the audiences of 2022 relate. For example, the Cookie Jar, rather than a traditional ‘lunatic asylum’, here becomes the place where society, namely mayoress Cora and her gang, sends those who refuse to conform, therefore the so-called lunatics are seemingly happier than the ‘regular’ townspeople.
The cast are all excellent, but special mention must go to Jordan Broatch, giving their professional debut, who is a brilliantly warm, crazy Hapgood, Chrystine Symone, who gives a quiet moment of poignancy to the title song, and Alex Young, who has superb comic timing and perfectly keeps the audience in on the silliness with a couple of well timed ‘looks’.
Although the show flopped on Broadway after just nine performances, it is worthy of its revival here and is bound to attract a cult following here in London.
Anyone Can Whistle runs at the Southwark Playhouse until 7th May 2022.