It’s a hot Thursday afternoon and I’m sitting on a hard wooden chair in front of an alter. A terrified teenager stares fixedly at the wooden cross in front of her and says, shaky voiced, “What you need to understand is that we were just kids…”
Yes, London get ready, Carrie is back. But this time they’re getting serious about it, as we found out when we were invited to sit in on rehearsals in an East London church.
Not seen in the UK since its RSC beginnings in 1988, the musical has become the stuff of legend, famed for its time on Broadway when it became a cult classic for all the wrong reasons. Watching it now it feels remarkably fresh, vibrating at a level of angst and frustration not seen since Spring Awakening as the young cast stomp, pout and smash their way through 30 minutes of Act One. But prepare to have your preconceptions shattered as instead of being tempted to snigger, you’re more likely to want to cover your eyes as the school girl bullies make Mean Girls look like a breeze and Carrie’s mother brings a sharp, bruising and frankly demented edge to emotional abuse.
“The Broadway production made many, many, many choices that just didn’t work and they were kind of ridiculous and fun to laugh at,” Kim Criswell, who will be playing Carrie’s tormented mother in the production, explained. And she should know. Not only did she see the original, but she even auditioned to be in it.
It’s not just our choice of hosiery that has changed since the 80s however, “All of sudden the internet happened and bullying became a hot topic,” Criswell commented. “This is a play about bullying. It’s about a girl that’s bullied at home and she’s bullied at school, and she has no place to go and she gets her revenge. You can make it about real people, because it’s a tragic story. We’re just telling the story without all that silly stuff they did in the first place.”
While the silly stuff might be gone, new technology has been brought in with Gary Lloyd’s sinister production becoming a Carrie for the digital age, for a new generation for whom bullying need not stop when the school gates close. As the cast, many of whom will be making their professional debuts as the teenagers at the centre of this horror story, performed excerpts from the show, iPhones were an almost constant presence; flashed about as they sung about Facebook statuses and humiliating moments caught on film encouraged to go viral.
It’s not just the timing that’s been given a kick up the formerly Spandex-wearing arse, but audiences can expect a newly reworked score and book, and a new vision to match, with Lloyd’s hopes for the piece a million miles away from hammed up lines and pigs blood comedy. While he’s well aware there will be audience members “with a morbid fascination with how bad they think it might be from the reputation of the original,” from what we glimpsed audiences should expect something far more intense, with Southwark Playhouse the perfect venue for their “immersive” vision.
“You’re going to be right on top of it, it’s going to feel quite claustrophobic and very much like the audience is part of the action throughout,” Lloyd explained. “We have an incredible special effects designer who is doing all of our telekinetic effects and blood and all the other lovely bits and pieces that we need.”
And that’s what, if we’re being truthful, we really wanted to hear. Because while it’s clear that Carrie may have grown up – even if she will still don that iconic prom dress for the show’s horrific conclusion – a director describing the show as “consuming” because of all the flying, it doesn’t get more intriguing than that.
Carrie, all is forgiven, London is ready for you.
Carrie runs at the Southwark Playhouse from tomorrow.
“We have an incredible special effects designer who is doing all of our telekinetic effects and blood and all the other lovely bits and pieces that we need.”