Cable Street

3
Seen at the Southwark Playhouse, Borough.
By Daryl - 28th Feb 2024

With the current political climate of antisemitism and post-Brexit xenophobia, there perhaps isn’t a more appropriate time to recount the story of the Battle of Cable Street; the anti-fascist uprising in the East of London that halted the march through the capital by Oswald Mosley and his Blackshirts. Set in both 1936 and the present day, this new musical by Tim Gilvin and Alex Kanefsky, highlights the multicultural nature of pre-war Eastend and how the various minority groups galvanised to defeat their oppressors.

Cable Street weaves current-day London with the lives and families that used to live in and around the area, introducing to us the Irish immigrant Kennys and the Jewish Scheinbergs in their daily battles with racism from the far-right British Union of Fascists. Throw in transient workers from the north of England, and you have a heady cocktail of community vs intolerance.

The story is one that needs to be told but I fear that, in trying to portray everything and everyone, both Kanefsky’s book and Gilvin’s compositions become a little muddy. I appreciate the need to showcase the eclecticism of the neighbourhood and the various factions that came together in a common cause, but some editing is required. Perhaps it portrays the franticness of the situation, but at times the plot and the conventions became confusing and occasionally try-hard. For me, the mix of so many musical genres, didn’t work. Too often, the numbers were derivative or were inconsistent in quality, especially the rapping.

There are moments of excellence, though, with some strong performances throughout this ensemble piece. Danny Colligan as the troubled Ron Willams has an exceptional voice and managed to portray the anguish and frustration of his character effortlessly. Mentions must also be given to Jade Johnson, who shone in every role she portrayed, and Jez Unwin, especially for his haunting rendition of Only Words.

Overall, this is an enjoyable piece of theatre that retells an important story that resonates with and mirrors today’s geo-political issues, both here and around the world. For me, it still needs work (and a blue pencil), but at its heart, there is a good musical.

Daryl Bennett


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