Review: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Southwark Playhouse (Elephant)

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is the story of a man born at the end of his life, rather than the beginning. Based on the short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, this production has been set in North Cornwall rather than America.

Everything about the production is beautiful. Jethro Compton is the director, as well as being responsible for the book and lyrics and stage design. The set is simple but striking, using wooden benches moved by the cast to show the various locations of the story while a fishing net strung from the ceiling with lights evokes the night sky. Darren Clark is the other half of the music writing team, providing the music and lyrics alongside Compton. The music has a folksy, sea shanty feeling but also includes some gorgeous, heart-rending ballads. Chi-San Howard provides choreography the seamlessly matches the music in energy, passion and feeling.

The ensemble cast of actor-musicians perform the piece with such infectious energy it’s impossible not to find yourself tapping your foot along. Jamie Parker as Benjamin Button is excellent. He gives a real masterclass in stage acting, showing all ages and stages of Benjamin’s life with aplomb; from bumbling old man, to doting young husband haunted by his secret and a feeling that he is running out of time.  Molly Osborne plays Elowen Keane, a young barmaid who falls in love with Benjamin. Osborne shows Elowen’s quicksilver wit, warmth and devotion to Benjamin and her aging forward is as subtle and perfectly pitched as Parker’s aging back.

The rest of the cast provide all the other characters in the story: mainly the inhabitants of Benjamin’s Cornish hometown. Benedict Salter gives a convincing performance as Benjamin’s father. He’s confused and afraid when he first meets his son, and ultimately decides to hide him from the world for fear of other’s reactions to him. Philippa Hogg as Benjamin’s mother is heart-wrenching. Her ballad “The Kraken’s Lullaby” is hauntingly beautiful, showing a mother’s confliction between fear and shame, not knowing how to love the son she so desperately wanted. Jack Quarton is brilliant as Jack Trenlee, the young son of a mine owner who becomes Benjamin’s friend and later an adult who may be able to help him.

It’s rare to find a show so utterly absorbing, leaving most of the audience a tearful wreck by the end. This show has a long life ahead of it.


Hannah Gladstone

Hannah Gladstone
Hannah Gladstone

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