THEATRE REVIEW: Sylvia starring Beverley Knight and Sharon Rose at the Old Vic

By Aline Mahrud

WORTH A LOOK?: ***

WHEN?: 30 January, opens 2 February and runs through 1 April 2023 RUNTIME: 160 minutes (including a 20-minute interval)

‘The Old Vic’s Artistic Director Matthew Warchus said to me in 2018: ‘Musicals aren’t written, they’re re-written’, says Sylvia director Kate Prince in the programme.

  • Read on for reasons including Beverley Knight and Sharon Rose giving it their all as a mother and daughter who don’t see eye to eye

Women’s rights is the focus of new hip hop-esque musical Sylvia which has been revamped since we saw an underwhelming workshop production at the Old Vic in 2018.

We didn’t review it then but the good news is that, 5 years later, this new version is sharper, has better songs and a more satisfying story.

At its heart it’s about the differences between mother and daughter Emmeline and Sylvia Pankhurst. The former is intent on persuading the Government to allow women to vote, the latter is under the spell of Labour politician Keir Hardie and more concerned with equality for all.

Prince, who also wrote the book, lyrics, additional music and is choreographer, chooses funk, soul, hip hop and R’n’B as her musical influences and artists cited in the programme include Prince, Chaka Khan, Janet Jackson, A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul.

(Kate) Prince is also quoted in the programme as saying: ‘Funk feels like revolution to me’ and, given the politics of a piece about the fight of the suffragettes in the early 20th century, 1 might think this has Hamilton aspirations.

Any new musical’s success depends upon the immediacy of the songs and the Act 1 finale Be The Change is moving as the suffragettes link arms in defiance as they face attack by male police.

Since 2018 Knight has gone on to become 1 of the undisputed queens of the West End and we last saw her boss The Drifters’ Girl at the Garrick while Sister Act at the Eventim Apollo this summer was not quite a big enough show for its cavernous venue. 

Her powerhouse vocals are very much front and centre but it’s a generous performance to play such an ultimately unsympathetic character and allow Sharon Rose in the titular role the space to shine.

The pair’s duet towards the shows close as they lay their arguments in front of each other is really quite moving.

Elsewhere there’s some enjoyable comedy with Jade Hackett bringing the house down with her take on Winston Churchill’s mother and Razak Osman bossing the medical-based Men Are Just Better Put Together Than Women.

One of Sylvia‘s cast members – Kirstie Skivington – starred last year in a show called Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World which drew in part on this story and we can’t help but feel that Sylvia‘s gestation period and disappearance for so long means some of its timeliness has been lost.

It’s great to have a musical on in London which draws on musical influences such as these and this is a very political story to tell at this time but the best reason to see it is for its star performers – Beverley Knight and Sharon Rose – giving their all as a mother and daughter who don’t quite see eye to eye.

  • Main picture via Facebook courtesy Old Vic Tickets
  • Have you seen a Beverley Knight show before and what did you think of this 1?
  • Let us know what you thought in the comments below
  • Enjoyed this review? Follow monstagigz on Twitter @NeilDurham, email neildurham3@gmail.com and check us out on Instagram and Facebook

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