Leicester Haymarket
Opened 5 September, 1998

As the flagship production in Leicester Haymarket's 25th anniversary season, artistic director Paul Kerryson has chosen to revive a minor Kander & Ebb musical which flopped on Broadway in 1984, was similarly short-lived in Kerryson's own London production in 1987, and garnered a lukewarm reception on its latest UK presentation barely three months ago in the intimacy of Richmond's Orange Tree. He must, one cannot help concluding, really be fond of The Rink to stick with it after all that. One can more or less see how the show can inspire such attachment, but also why it will never be the sensation Kerryson seems to wish it were.

For The Rink is a show with heart. In fact, it is nothing but heart. As Anna (Kathryn Evans) recounts her life in the boardwalk roller-skating rink as her husband first goes off to war, then slides into a bottle and finally leaves her and her young daughter to find himself we realise she has heart. As her estranged hippie daughter Angel (Linzi Hateley) returns some time in the 1970s to contest the rink's sale and give her perspective on growing up there, we see that she, too, has heart. Mother and daughter are in conflict, but gradually reconciled to each other partly through sharing a joint, partly through the revelation that Angel is accompanied here by her own daughter, whom she has named Anna.

Terrence McNally's book has two or three moments of sharpness in two and a half hours of sentiment. The songs have that familiar Kander & Ebb feel not the slush of assembly-line contemporary musicals, but lacking also any of the musical and lyrical acuity that so distinguishes their successes of Cabaret and Chicago. The show consistently hits the tone of those annoying, gooily moralistic codas which seemed obligatory in episodes of American TV sitcoms in the late 1970s and early '80s. However extreme things appear to get (and that isn't very extreme), we know that things will be tied up smoothly; however hard the show pretends otherwise, there is no pill beneath the sugar coating.

Evans gives a Rosalind Russell-style performance as Anna, and Hateley copes strongly in a role ranging from post-flower-child despair to having to play herself as a five-year-old. The six-man wrecking crew disassembling the rink double as virtually everyone else, including a few instances of calculatedly sniggersome drag, and as a final coup the entire set is flown or wheeled out at the end to symbolise the rink's final demolition, whilst three generations of Antonelli women walk off into the sunrise. All aspects of the show feel pervaded by a sense of well-meant, sincere but ultimately misplaced and insufficient ardour.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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