Mini-review – Floyd Collins – Southwark Playhouse

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Let’s not say too much about how I came to be at the Southwark Playhouse for a matinee on a sunny Saturday – I had the free time and someone said, “Hey, there’s this musical on,” so I went, knowing absolutely nothing about it.

Floyd Collins is a play about a man who gets stuck in a cave while looking for a new possible tourist attraction (in Depression-era Kentucky this seems reasonable, and the play is based on an actual incident). The Vaults is a great setting for a show in which much of the action takes place underground, and the use of ladders to indicate cliff faces and also to let the actors physically demonstrate the difficulties and challenges of moving around underground made the experience quite visceral – I was really able to buy into the caver’s predicament and the harsh truths of people’s physical conditions affecting their ability to rescue Floyd. The desperation was also made even more visceral by seeing him actually stuck on the stage for the entirety of the first act, sitting on the floor while everyone else “on the surface” was getting on with life. You couldn’t help but get creeping feelings of claustrophobia.

Ideal setting aside, there were problems with sound quality that meant I frequently could not hear what the characters were singing. But this was less of a problem for me than the fact that the music was a style I simply don’t care for – vocal noodling without any sort of real tune. So I while I could hear the music perfectly, and I could hear enough of the lyrics, I didn’t like it at all. And as the story carried on (Floyd’s sister really wants him out; a cub reporter is actually able to make it to where he is trapped and bring him food; a media circus begins to happen on the surface as the story spreads across America), and the music continued to be not compelling (sure, a riddle song is fun, but I’d like it more if I wanted to sing along), I sort of mentally drifted away, as Floyd himself might have. But at some point I began to feel a sense of freedom, and my spirit lightened: I’d just realized that I didn’t need to stay to see the second act, and that, in fact, it made no sense for me to do so. Not only was I not enjoying myself, I realised I didn’t care whether Floyd lived or died. And there was no longer anything to keep me back from rejoining life on a sunny spring afternoon on the streets of Southwark. And as the music drew to a close for the first act, I felt a sense of joy as I prepared to leave the darkness. It was just a pity I couldn’t do anything to help poor Floyd. Oh well: every man for himself.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, March 2nd, 2012, which technically was still winter but please grant me artistic license. Note that a friend of mine who is a fan of this composer was having an ecstatic experience, so your milage may vary: I can at least say that I thought the singing voices of the various characters seemed pretty good in general, although, as ever, nobody seems to know how to perform as a crazy person.)

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