Sylvia - review
Old Vic

Words by: Ronke Lawal | Published: Thursday, September 27, 2018 2:54 PM

SYLVIA, was originally commissioned by The Old Vic in 2017 as a dance theatre piece about the life of Sylvia Pankhurst but has evolved into a full-blown funk, soul and hip hop musical. It is no mean feat to create a musical of this scale which focuses on such a key moment in history, the Suffragette movement. 100 years after the first women in Britain got the vote SYLVIA brings crucial historical moments to life in a bold and new way. It is timely and relevant – emphasising a new era of women’s empowerment and equality that we are still fighting for today with “Time’s Up” and the “Me Too” movement. Co-written by Kate Prince and Priya Parmar with original music by Josh Cohen and DJ Walde, SYLVIA celebrates the life of Sylvia Pankhurst, her pivotal role in the campaign for women’s rights and the price of the passion and politics that tore her family apart.


The band and performances of the cast were exceptional.

The casting (read announcement) drew controversy as Sylvia Pankhurst (Genesis Lynea – who was taken ill at the start of the run) and her Mother Emmeline (Beverley Knight - read interview were both played (exceptionally well) by black women. Any of the individuals who took issue with this clearly had no understanding of the point and purpose of a movement like the Suffragettes, which though ironically at the time would not have taken race into consideration when fighting for the rights of women, still fought for freedom. And what is freedom, if not to allow complete creative expression in the important stories that are told about world history on stage. For years Black talent has been overlooked and under recognised so to give this cast such bold roles was to me a message to the masses, that theatre in and of itself is changing. The audience and how it is consumed is changing, this was more than a musical, if one took the time to reflect upon the nuances and the narrative that was unfolding this was the show which challenged other theatre productions to step up and be daring. SYLVIA makes musical theatre accessible, relatable and informative – it proves that there is not a one size fits all approach to what can be done on stage.


The band and performances of the cast were exceptional. The show itself was too long, but in its current form it is still a work in progress. There are scenes that can be removed as they did not add value to the overall show but I enjoyed this and initially thought I would be exhausted by the lack of dialogue!


The Old Vic has a 200-year history of nurturing creativity and supporting new adventures and, in celebration of this major anniversary they have taken a courageous step by giving SYLVIA its first lease of life on stage. In collaboration with Sadler’s Wells, Kate Prince: The ZooNation Company and co-commissioning partners, 14-18 NOW, The Old Vic has given us something new and bold to enjoy in the world of theatre.




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