By Emily Couch
LONDON, England – Floyd Collins, with music by Adam Guettel and lyrics by Tina Landau, tells the tragic true story of a 1925 cave explorer who becomes trapped in a Kentucky cave.
Whilst Floyd battles to cling to hope 150 feet beneath the earth’s surface, an ever-growing media circus engulfs his family and the world above.
The Southwark Playhouse, with its dark and cave-like vaults, completely transports the audience from a bustling London borough to Floyd’s eerie prison.
The set, designed by James Perkins, is minimalistic but effective.
Perkins uses levels and the depth of the vaults to superb effect, with ladders comprising a large part of the design.
Guettel’s score does not follow the typical musical theater formula.
However, the music – which draws influence from the bluegrass style – is refreshing, seamlessly interweaving dialogue with song to create a tasteful and realistic portrayal of an historic tragedy.
Under Derek Bond’s direction, the cast delivered a stellar performance, bringing the famous event to life.
Unlike many current musicals, realism and naturalistic acting is essential in Floyd Collins and each and every cast member delivered.
Glenn Carter manages to capture the courageous spirit and simple humanity of Floyd superbly whilst remaining on stage throughout the whole show. His fear, faith and pain are all too believable, wrenching the hearts of the audience at his predicament.
Robyn North brings a glowing innocence to the role of Floyd’s dreamy-minded sister Nellie.
Her well-portrayed childlike happiness and optimism is moving, especially in contrast to the ever-growing despair of her family.
Her beautiful soprano enhances her character, contrasting effectively with the lower range of the other characters.
Ryan Sampson successfully plays the heroic journalist “Skeets” Miller who is able to reach Floyd and make his story known to the nation and the world.
Sampson brings an endearing quirkiness to the role but also portrays real courage and compassion when the rescue team begins to lose hope.
Gareth Chart plays Homer, Floyd’s loyal and determined brother, realistically showing his anguish at the commercialisation of his brother’s fate.
With a strong onstage band of eight under the musical direction of Tim Jackson, Floyd Collins gives the audience an all-engulfing experience that touches hearts, leaving us questioning deeply the morality of today’s media.
Although perhaps not the typical choice of musical for most, Floyd Collins is harrowing but brilliant, with realism that leaves the audience wondering at the flawed but tenacious nature of the human spirit.
Floyd Collins runs through March 31 at Southwark Playhouse.