Review:  Cable Street – Southwark Playhouse

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Hope can overcome hate

Mark Twain once said that “History never repeats itself, but it does often rhyme.” It is hard to ignore the ways in which our culture is beginning to rhyme with the rise of fascism of the 1930s, writes Katie Kelly… 

Southwark Playhouse have chosen a perfect moment to put hope to music in its new production ‘Cable Street’, the story of a community which rose up in 1936, against the forces of race hate led by Oswald Mosley’s British Union Of Fascists. 

The black shirts sought to play the stale trick of persuading people struggling for survival that migrants were the enemy to distract them from the real enemy, the greed of those who were exploiting them.

On this occasion, the people said no to hate and yes to each other in a defiant refusal to let a fascist march pass through their community. 

This musical takes inspiration from hits such as Hamilton and The Producers.

There is rap, a jaunty number by the fascists which closely mirrored Mel Brooks’ ‘Springtime for Hitler in Germany’. There is a ‘Les Mis’ barricade and perhaps less successfully, a nod to ‘Warhorse’ in the shape of a slightly amateur cardboard horse’s head meant to represent a police cavalry charge. 

But there’s nothing musically derivative here. Tim Gilvin’s score is original and, in many places, highly evocative. There are some wonderful numbers, and the quality is consistent throughout.

The tiny three-person band is ably assisted by versatile cast performers. Their multitasking stretches beyond picking up instruments to switching between multiple characters with deft costume changes, completely convincingly.

The moment when actor Jez Unwin transformed from Jewish father to fascist leader in front of our eyes, in a couple of sentences and a jacket swap was extraordinary.

Some vocal performances stand out: Sha Dessi as the gutsy Catholic communist and shop worker in a Jewish bakery.  Danny Colligan whose singing is outstanding, plays with great sensitivity and complexity the young man whose dream of London turns sour and leaves him ripe for exploitation by the black shirts. 

This is a warmhearted, highly energetic show with a message which we need to hear – That hope can overcome hate, and needs to if we are not to slip into becoming more like the nations we were once so proud of fighting for our freedom. 

The Large, Southwark Playhouse Borough, 77-85 Newington Causeway, London, SE1 6BD until 16th March. Times: Mon – Sat 7.30pm; Tues & Sat matinees 3pm. Admission: £35, £28.

Booking: 020 7407 0234 –


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