Marc Blitzstein’s community vs commerce ‘musical’ The Cradle Will Rock has found the perfect home in the Arcola Theatre’s steel clad factory.
A contemporary and friend of Bertolt Brecht, Blitzstein’s belief in the social function of art is prevalent from the outset of this ragged, discordant operetta. A blistering attack on the social prostitution Blitzstein felt was endemic in every profession, The Cradle Will Rock puts on trial those for whom money, comfort and social standing come before morality.
From the Moll whose jaded crimson lips tempt us into Steel Town to the Judas ‘Liberty Committee’ whose priests, doctors and press men puff and squawk at their lot, everyone is here to sell their wares to Mr Mister aka ‘The Man’. Only Larry Foreman, a pamphlet distributor and inciter to rioting will stand up and voice dissent; this rippling leader of union revolution is clearly Blitzstein’s socialist poster boy.
Josie Benson steals the stage with a storming solo towards the rising finale, which really gets the heart pumping
One by one their betrayals are laid bare in a parade of solicitation that makes for a strangely alienating first half of an evening that should be stirring. But the introduction of people with integrity into the punchy second act adds the necessary level of empathy to these ragbag citizens and this is a cast who, for the most part, really grab this material by the throat.
Adam Linstead as Editor Daily, a bent press man, and Adey Grummet as brash and manipulative Mrs Mister particularly embed themselves into this strange world, feeling truly at home in their skin and producing thrillingly theatrical yet believable performances out of these caricatures. Josie Benson also steals the stage with a storming solo towards the rising finale, which really gets the heart pumping and has the audience firmly reaching for their Little Red Books.
Mehmet Ergen’s gutsy production gives the Arcola a finale to be proud of, signalling very clearly this venue’s indomitable fighting spirit as they move buildings. And although Blitzstein’s rousing air punching ending is perhaps a tad naive to jaded capitalist eyes, as we look towards a dark future it’s also an inspiring one.
As tens of thousands of students throughout England march in union against Government cuts they can find no greater role model than the fiery Blitzstein, hell if he was still around he’d be one of them.
**** (4 stars)
Runs until 18th December