Review: Parade - Southwark Playhouse

‘Parade’ – Southwark Playhouse
Photo by Annabel Vere
The vaults beneath London Bridge station may seem an odd place to build a theatre, but the dark, cavernous space of the Southwark Playhouse provides a suitably imposing and electric atmosphere for the chilling story of ‘Parade’. Set in 1913 Atlanta, Georgia, this musical follows the real-life trial of Leo Frank, a Jewish businessman, accused of the rape and murder of 13-year-old Mary Phagan. Lets be clear, this is no comedy. If it’s fun and frivolity you’re after in your musicals then best stick to ‘Legally Blonde’…

It begins with a joyful celebration of ‘Confederate Memorial Day’ but quickly descends into darker territory as the murder comes to light. The audience think they are getting a classic tale of ‘Whodunnit?’ but it soon becomes apparent that sometimes in society there is a little distinction between “bringing those guilty to justice” and “finding someone to blame”.

Photo by Annabel Vere
Indeed ‘Parade’ is not about the man Leo Frank at all, but more about how a community in shock reacts to such a horrific event. First we get disbelief and trauma, followed by anger, and finally the inevitable knee-jerk reaction from those under pressure to find and condemn a murderer.

There are also other issues to consider as the trial unfolds. The racial tensions faced by African-Americans living in 1913 America; the life of a Jewish businessman and anti-Semitism pre-Nazi propaganda; the role of the media in creating and igniting blame; and perhaps more surprisingly, the role of women, both as victims of a sexist culture but also women as powerful pawns in the sentencing of a seemingly good man. The courtroom scenes are particularly reminiscent of the Salem witch trials seen in ‘The Crucible’ as each women in turn smears Frank’s reputation. Indeed it is their believable and harrowing testimonies that are most convincing and at the same time condemning.

Photo by Annabel Vere
Cast abilities are mixed. There are some very questionable ‘Southern’ accents thrown about. Alastiar Brookshaw’s ‘Leo Frank’ is convincing and played with a wonderful vulnerability. However, the unexpected star of the show is found in Samuel J Weir, notably for his portrayal of ‘Frankie Epps’. He flits seamlessly between loveable heartthrob and menacing avenger. He has a charming stage presence that has a noticeable effect on the audience when he is performing. Also worth a mention is Victoria Serra, who while playing the minor role of ‘Iola Stover’ still manages to make an impact with her astounding singing voice. There are only a few glimpses of it throughout the entire performance but one hopes her talent will not go unnoticed in the near future.

This production is let down by the quality of the sound design, sometimes difficult to hear the actors over the music, but Parade is definitely worthy of interest and will probably appeal more to the die-hard theatregoers rather than families looking for a fun night out with the kids.  The irony of a story that exposes the role of the media, racial tensions, and effect of a community in turmoil is however not lost. Instead it acts as a haunting reminder of issues that are still very relevant to today’s recent events.  

Book tickets:

Review by Melissa Phillips