REVIEW: You Are Here, The Grey Area Theatre Company (Southwark Playhouse)

After five long months, theatre buildings are finally back in business for in-person performances, meaning our calendar and credit card statement(!) are starting to look rather more normal. Regular readers will know that Southwark Playhouse is one of our absolute favourite venues, so it’s no surprise that this is where we chose to break our stagey fast. (Mummy was so enthusiastic when it came to booking tickets that she initially managed to clash her booking with Eurovision but thankfully the lovely box office were happy to change the ticket to the matinee instead!) So, in customary fashion, Mummy and Mrs Mummy took it in turns to see You Are Here on Friday and Saturday respectively, while the other was on munchkin duty. (The munchkins were quite put out at our first show back not being a children’s show but they will be back in a theatre themselves soon enough.)

Before we get to the review of the show itself it’s worth saying just how good the Covid security measures are at Southwark Playhouse. There’s a one-way system, drinks delivered to your seat and perspex screens up between bubbles. This means no gaps between groups and allows the seating plan to be reconfigured for every performance. It’s particularly good news for those seeing a show alone as, unlike in many venues, there is no limit on the number of solo seats. (Top tip if you are going solo – The seats are snug if you have perspex on both side but you can avoid this by booking an aisle seat!) Sadly, standing ovations are prohibited for safety reasons – Standing means popping your head above the perspex parapet (or doing some sort of weird crouched ovation as we discovered at this venue in the Autumn) – But we can safely say that we would have given one had it been permitted.

The lovely set for You Are Here at Southwark Playhouse

Set in Chicago at the time of the lunar landing, You Are Here follows suburban housewife Diana (Wendi Peters) on a voyage of self-discovery after years spent in a safe but uneventful marriage. Inspired by the historic event that unfolds on her television, Diana inexplicably walks out of her comfortable home in the middle of the night, taking her own giant leap into the unknown. It’s a funny, moving and thought-provoking show which explores the lives of ordinary people at an extraordinary moment in history. Peters is excellent throughout the 90 minute performance in which she is constantly centre stage (alongside Phil Adèle, Jordan Frazier and Rebecca McKinnis who take it in turns to play a range of supporting roles as well as the nagging voices inside Diana’s head). Although it could almost be a one-woman show, it’s elevated by the ensemble, with some particularly comedic uses of back-up singing, as well as opportunities afforded for individuals to shine (most notably Jordan Frazier as Ruby).

It’s a well-crafted piece of work with a captivating book by Brian Hill which takes a welcome twist just at the stage where it threatens to become predictable, and finishes somewhere shy of schmaltzy while still giving you a nice fuzzy feeling. There are some great comic moments, including a recurring musical theatre in-joke which landed very well (although it’s at this point we feel we should confess that we have never seen The King and I…..) We loved the moon motif, which is carried into Libby Todd’s gorgeous set design and forms the backdrop for both the story and the staging. Neil Bartram’s score perfectly unpins the understated piece, never showy but still plenty for Peters to get her teeth into. And while you probably won’t wake up the next day with the melodies going round in your head, they are all enjoyable in the moment which feels more than fitting for a show which ultimately is about what it means to truly live.

You Are Here plays at Southwark Playhouse from 17 May to 12 June 2021. We attended the evening performance on 17 May and the matinee on 18 May.