This week I headed into London to see the recently opened production of LIFT at the Southwark Playhouse. An innovative British musical that debuted in 2013, LIFT was developed by the production company Perfect Pitch and has been reimagined by director Dean Johnson and his creative team for the 2022 revival. It centres on principal character “the busker” and his wandering imagination during a 54 second lift journey at Covent Garden tube station. Over this short period of time, the busker interacts with a group of strangers in the lift and his mind concocts life stories for them based on their actions and motions whilst in the confined space. Subconsciously for the busker, each of the character’s fictional paths link to his own life in some way, helping him on the road to recovery after a period of loss and heartbreak.
Staged in South London for a month, Dean Johnson’s new production of LIFT opened last Friday to previews, before officially opening on 18th May. I was fortunate enough to be invited to the press night performance, heading into the city after work. Having received the fabulous production shots (credit: Mark Senior), I was excited to see the intimate set and how the creative team would explore the relationships between the busker and his fellow passengers in the lift. The Southwark Playhouse is an immersive and intimate production space, with seats surrounding three sides of the stage. The busker (played by Luke Friend) was performing on the lowly lit platform as we found our seats in the auditorium, drawing attention to his character ahead of the performance. It was a great way to entice the audience of what was to come, ahead of showtime.
Themes and interpretation
Written by Ian Watson (book) and Craig Adams (music and lyrics), LIFT is a rollercoaster ride through the busker’s inner thoughts and feelings. The plot is quite complex with its intertwining characters and storylines, requiring a deep level of focus to appreciate the underlying themes. However the events become easier to follow later in the 90-minute production, when the busker frees himself of the pain and loss he has been suffering for 12 months. The creative team leaves some of the production up to interpretation, but the key takeaway for me was the fact that sometimes it is easier to see your life through somebody else’s perspective.
The busker is supported by seven additional performers and the company has such a compelling dynamic with their harmonious voices and ability to move together as one whilst in the lift. Each character plays a role in showcasing the busker’s life to the audience, one puzzle piece at a time. From multiple professions and backgrounds, the supporting roles cover all walks of life. There are even two parts reserved for internet dating site avatars, bringing an element of humour to the intricate and gripping musical. Chrissie Bhima and Jordan Broatch were magnificent in the avatar roles, really mastering the computer generated voices and comedic timing required for the characters.
The lively opening number ‘She Meets Him/One Minute’ was a great opener to the production, illustrating the scene with its informative lyrics about the importance of the 54 seconds. Moreover, it was the raw and powerful numbers ‘It’s Been A Year’ and ‘Lost in Translations’ that stood out most for me. The first of these was performed by the lap dancer (played by Tamara Morgan) and the auditorium fell silent during her chilling interpretation of Craig Adams’ track. The French teacher (played by Kayleigh McKnight) bares all in ‘Lost in Translations’, detailing the personal distress that she has gone through after not being able to admit her true feelings to a former girlfriend. Both Tamara and Kayleigh have absolutely stunning voices, which shone in the performance.
Staging, lighting and sound
I was impressed by the simplistic yet effective use of staging, lighting and sound to portray the tube station setting. There were various coloured illuminated bars positioned around the set, which changed shade depending on the mood of the scene. In the finale, the bars were multicoloured, reflecting the wider London Underground network and its coloured tube lines. This was a really beautiful touch, rounding off the production with a joyful explosion of colour.
That being said, I would have liked to have seen the set move away from the lift structure during the imagination sequences; visually transporting the audience away to other locations implied throughout the 90 minutes. I think this change would have helped ease my confusion around the plot early on in the performance.
An emotional piece of theatre focusing on a moment in life that normally passes us by without a second thought, LIFT* highlights the importance of finding peace in life when you lose your way. It is a complex, thought-provoking musical undertaken by a talented cast of performers. I have been reflecting on the show today and questioning my own interpretation of the show, but this is part of the fun of live theatre, being able to ponder on what you have just seen.
The musical is playing at the Southwark Playhouse until Saturday 18th June and tickets can be purchased from the theatre’s website. The prices are affordable for London and great for theatre fans looking to experience a show in the city.
Thanks for reading my blog today.
Love Kat xxxx
*My ticket and digital programme for LIFT were gifted in exchange for a review of the performance.