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Working - Royal Academy of Music

​I’d missed the Southwark Playhouse production of Working, simply because there were too many other things to review at the time and, as with everything at Southwark, it was only on for about a month or so. Ironically, this production from the Royal Academy of Music Musical Theatre Company lased only four days, and as I went to the last one, the postgraduate musical theatre students were in as fine a form as they were going to be.

I rather liked the show: it is not difficult to follow proceedings, for the simple reason that it’s more of a song and speech cycle than a conventional musical – there is some interaction between characters, but they are introduced to the audience separately. Well, apart from one scene where three members of staff who share an open plan office in a large corporation wax lyrical about what it is like to be in that sort of environment. It doesn’t appear to be that far off from the rat race as detailed in the musical How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying.

Various characters from various industries gave details about what they get up to both on and off-duty; I am pleased to report that, on the whole, the lives portrayed here indicate that working to live is more popular than living to work. There was a lovely touch at the end of the performance, when the names of everyone involved in the building works for the RAM’s new Susie Sainsbury Theatre were projected during an inspiring number called ‘Something To Point To’, about people in the construction industry who can point to a building in years to come and say they played their part.

I happen to work in the construction industry – every day, sheets are signed off before works commences saying that each worker understands what the tasks to be done during that shift are. Not that they are fired if X, Y and Z aren’t done by the end of the shift – often, the ‘tasks’ are a continuation of construction works begun some time ago. So, while the names of general labourers, carpenters, scaffolders and electricians (and so on) may not be on a plaque at the front entrance to a major new building, they are on documentation that is properly archived.

Anyway, the choreography (Aline David) is quite energetic, arguably too much so for the portrayal of ordinary people just going around their business. Who cares? It’s a delight to see good dancing. The musical could have done better to have fewer characters, properly developed: this is more of a song cycle, with one character after another given too little time to make a substantial impact.

How interesting, then, that the cabaret upstairs in a recital hall after the show, presented by the ‘other’ half of the Musical Theatre Company, who are performing ‘The Sweet Smell of Success’, also as part of the RAM’s summer showcase, had more of a running narrative to it. Rather overtly seductive (it was, to be fair, billed as an ‘after hours’ event), the show including a broad and eclectic range of musical numbers including Stephen Sondheim tunes and two songs from Cyndi Lauper’s Kinky Boots. Janne Snellen stood out for me in a song I’d never come across before, ‘Yolanda at the Bottom of the Stairs’, a humorous number about someone who didn’t get on with the narrator who gets their comeuppance. Frankly, the cabaret upstairs was better than the big show in the main house.

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