London Culture | ‘Caroline, or Change’ Theatre Review

London Culture | 'Caroline, or Change' Theatre Review

Please note: I was given tickets to ‘Caroline, or Change‘ in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

I was excited to see the revival of Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s  musical Caroline, or Change in the Playhouse Theatre last week, as I’d read several spectacular reviews. The show did not disappoint, and I was also surprised that it’s an appropriately festive performance for December, as a Hanukkah supper is a memorable scene from Act 2, and Christmas carols mix with blues, Motown and klezmer in a truly dynamic musical performance.

London Culture | 'Caroline, or Change' Theatre Review‘Caroline, or Change’ at the Playhouse Theatre. Photograph by Alastair Muir. Image source.

Caroline, or Change is set in Louisiana in 1963. The Civil Rights Movement has been gathering momentum for years, but change is slow to come to the sleepy Louisiana town where Caroline Thibodeaux (played by Sharon D Clarke) is the black maid of a liberal white Jewish family. Kushner in fact drew on his own memories of his childhood in writing the musical, which explains why Noah Gellman (Isaac Forward), the young son of the house, has such a prominent part within the piece. Noah, grieving for his dead mother, turns to Caroline for a friendship that she, in her role as employee, finds hard to give.

Tensions mount as Noah’s step-mother, Rose Gellman (Lauren Ward), in an effort to teach Noah the value of money, tells Caroline that she can keep any spare change that she finds in Noah’s pockets. The nickels and dimes that Caroline saves from the washing machine, although small change to the Gellman family, make all the difference to underpaid Caroline, who is a single mother with three children to feed. And yet being forced to take a child’s pocket money is a soul-diminishing experience that adds to Caroline’s resentment at her restricted world of ceaseless drudgery.

London Culture | 'Caroline, or Change' Theatre Review

Sharon D Clarke as Caroline Thibodeaux in ‘Caroline, or Change’. Photograph by Alastair Muir. Image source.

Sharon D Clarke’s performance as Caroline is truly remarkable. Not only is her incredible voice mesmerising in its power, but even her silences vibrate with unspoken words. Clarke, as Caroline, performs her duties with a brooding sullenness that speaks volumes; her unhappiness and frustration boiling just below the surface until her emotions finally break free and ring out in song. Caroline is shown as incredibly isolated; much of her days spent alone in the hot, steamy basement of the Gellman’s home.

Without any real company beyond that of Noah’s, Caroline personifies her daily companions: the washing machine, drier and radio, which spring to life and act as her alter-egos, both chiding and encouraging her decisions. Many of the most memorable scenes of the musical take place in the basement, with the animated domestic appliances belting out spectacular tunes. I especially enjoyed the performances of Dujonna Gift-Simms, Tanisha Spring and Keisha Amponsa Banson as the ‘radio.’ The women made a dynamic trio brilliantly reminiscent of the Supremes.

London Culture | 'Caroline, or Change' Theatre Review‘Caroline, or Change’ at the Playhouse Theatre. Photograph by Alastair Muir. Image source.

Ultimately, Caroline, or Change is about the hope of change to come, the wish for a better future. Caroline’s daughter, Emmie (Abiona Omonua) is the embodiment of this hope, as she refuses to be seen as anything less than equal to her mother’s employers, and carries utter conviction in her fierce determination to grab hold of a life different from the generations of women that came before her.

I found Caroline, or Change, a thought-provoking musical with fantastic performances, and if you enjoy a music-filled night at the theatre, then I definitely recommend adding this show to your list. Caroline, or Change is running at the Playhouse Theatre in London’s West End until 6th April 2019. Tickets may be purchased here.