Ginger Hibiscus | Ginger Hibiscus | Parade at the London Theatre Workshop
Ginger Hibiscus | Parade at the London Theatre Workshop
Ginger Hibiscus | Parade at the London Theatre Workshop
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03 Sep REVIEW: Parade at the London Theatre Workshop

Parade01When the body of thirteen year old Mary Phagan was found in the basement of a pencil factory run by Leo Frank, the suspicious eyes of the investigating officer landed, of course, on him. Accused of murdering the young employee by an officer for whom a conviction was more important than the right conviction, the Jewish “outsider” in Atlanta, Georgia found that to be “tried by his peers” meant more than just trial by jury.

A musical telling the stories of Mary Phagan and Leo Frank, Parade is one steeped in truth, and as with any depiction of “the truth,” a certain responsibility is owed by the production, to those involved, to the narrative of history and even to those history never acknowledged. Alfred Uhry and Jason Robert Brown’s writing bows gracefully to their obligations, their work allowing a precise degree of ambiguity to remain over Frank’s guilt or innocence, whilst making it absolutely clear what they feel happened to Phagan, and in doing so, carefully carving out and presenting the layers of uncertainty around it. It’s a rare and refreshing nuance for a musical to have, and it’s exciting to see a show that trusts its audience enough to let those grey areas exist.

* Spoiler alert – skip to the next paragraph to avoid spoilers *
Despite being set just over a century ago, the ideas explored in Parade continue to be relevant- in particular those on the pendulum of public opinion, and how that pendulum is able to fracture the delivery of fair justice. Think, for example, of retired teacher Christopher Jeffries, the landlord to murdered Joanna Yeates, an innocent man demonised by a witch-hunting press who published all manner of unfounded accusations about him. Turn your mind, too, to the Indian man accused – but not convicted – of rape, who this year was dragged from prison and lynched by a baying mob as they filmed it on their mobile phones. With agonising parallels to the true events that inspired Parade, examples like this go to show that the lessons of history haven’t been learnt in over 100 years, reinforcing exactly why productions like this matter.

Parade02With source material clearly intended for big budget productions, London Theatre Workshop had a monumental task on their hands when it came to scaling down the venue, cast, and available cash to put on such a show without skimping on potency. Largely achieved, a number of individually excellent performances lift the show, notably from Ross Barnes in the lead role, and Michael Moulton as both Jim Conley and Newt Lee, as well as Dean Bray covering for Daniel Holley as the young soldier and Frankie Epps, who not only delivers an assured and forceful performance, but also a stand out vocal.

With an enormous character list shared amongst 13 actors, the production would benefit from greater clarity around the lesser characters, (though it’s certainly not enough of a problem to inhibit comprehension of the story), and there are moments when the band feels slightly shaky, unsurprising given the complexity of Jason Robert Brown’s Tony Award winning score. But despite some fairly excruciating accents and consistently scrappy scene changes, Jody Tranter’s creation is one that on the whole, gets it right, delivering the punches on cue.

A phenomenally ambitious piece of musical theatre, Parade at the London Theatre Workshop is a show capable of getting inside your head and under your skin. Hauntingly relevant and incredibly engaging, with a spot more spit and polish, it has the potential to shine.

For tickets and information:
Venue: London Theatre Workshop
Dates: 1st – 13th September
Images: Cameron Slater

Star Rating

Ginger Hibiscus don’t like using stars as a headline; we think they’re too reductionist, and that decision-making based on stars misses the point of a review. Just as you wouldn’t judge a personality using a five-point scale, theatre is multi-dimensional. So have a read, and then look at the stars afterwards.
Okay, fine, but how many stars do you give it? Click here