facebook play-alt chevron-thin-right chevron-thin-left cancel location info chevron-thin-down star-full help-with-circle calendar images mail whatsapp directions_car directions_bike train directions_walk directions_bus close spinner11
Following official government advice theatres are currently closed to help slow the spread of coronavirus. For more information on cancelled performances click here.
Vimala Rowe in Cafe Society Swing. Photo credit: Craig Brough

Vimala Rowe in Cafe Society Swing. Photo credit: Craig Brough

Reasons to see: Café Society Swing

Carly-Ann Clements

By Carly-Ann Clements First Published 11 June 2018, Last Updated 11 June 2018

It’s the last week of Café Society Swing’s strictly limited run at Theatre Royal Stratford East and we’re here to tell you why you should rush to the theatre to see it before it closes on Saturday 16 June.

The semi-staged musical set in the famed Café Society – the first racially-integrated jazz club in New York – gives you a brief history of the club, the troubles it faced, and the world-class performers that graced its stage. With historical and culturally relevant themes and beautiful performances, it’s a must-see for both jazz enthusiasts and novices alike. And if that’s not enough convincing, here are five reasons to see Café Society Swing.

Ciyo Brown. Cafe Society Swing. Photo credit Craig Brough.

The theatre

Okay, this doesn’t really have anything to do with the show itself but it’s worth noting. Even though it’s my local theatre, this was my first visit to the Theatre Royal Stratford East. It’s intimate without being twee or claustrophobic. It has beautiful, traditional decor consisting of deep reds and gold trims. It’s just a lovely, relaxed theatre which was the perfect setting for Café Society Swing. Plus, there are a lot of local people who seemed to visit the theatre last minute or on a whim.

The songs

As the show tells the tale of the first inter-racial jazz club in New York, the song list is incredible. Whether jazz is your thing or not, you won’t be able to resist the familiar hits of Billie Holiday, Lena Horne and Sarah Vaughan. One performance, in particular, left the crowd stunned and in awe. A powerful rendition of Billie’s Strange Fruit reminded the contemporary audience of the racial tensions that these sensational artists experienced and the change they campaigned for with every breath they had.

Judi Jackson in Cafe Society Swing. Photo credit Craig Brough

The singers

And what’s a good setlist without great singers? China Moses, Vimala Rowe and Judi Jackson gave enchanting performances that embodied each historical artist to a tee. Every time one of them slinked on to the stage, you were transported to the dark corners of a 1940s bar where anything can happen. The standout, though, has to be Vilma who’s Billie Holiday evoked the strong yet fragile legend’s essence.

The band

Accompanying the incredible singers was the equally brilliant band. Comprising of keys, drums, strings and brass, each solo hits just the right note, creating a gorgeous atmosphere that makes you sink into the music. They were led by the show’s music director and creator Alex Webb on the piano and you could feel his passion and determination throughout.

Peter Gerald. Cafe Society Swing. Photo credit Craig Brough

Historical relevance

As mentioned above, Café Society Swing confronts the subject of race and inequality head-on. The narrator, played by Peter Gerald, takes on multiple characters providing various points of view on the club and on the idea of racial integration. Starting with a journalist hell-bent on shutting down the venue, you’re faced with the stark reality of segregation and the unabashed discrimination people of the era proudly displayed. The following narrators – a bartender from the club and the owner, Barney Josephson – showed that some were more than just interested in change, but emotionally (and financially) invested in it. It’s an incredibly important story to tell and remember.

Check out our Instagram Stories where the company of Café Society Swing will be taking over our account. To buy tickets, visit the Theatre Royal Stratford East website.

Share

Sign up

Related articles

If you click through to seat selection (where you'll see either best available or a seating plan), you will be seeing the most up-to-date prices. If this differs from what we've written on the calendar, please bear with us, as those prices will update soon.

We now sell our famous TKTS Booth discounts online here at Official London Theatre.

We are now cancelling all performances up until and including 31 May 2020 to help us process existing bookings whilst we wait for further clarity from the government in terms of when we will be able to reopen.

We are so sorry that in these testing and difficult times you are not able to enjoy the show you have booked for and hope the following helps clarify next steps in respect of your tickets .

There is nothing that you need to do if your performance has been cancelled, but we do ask for your patience.

If you have booked directly with the theatre or show website for an affected performance, please be assured that they will contact you directly to arrange an exchange for a later date, a credit note/voucher or a refund. If you have booked via a ticket agent they will also be in contact with you directly.

We are processing in strict date order of performance, so you are likely to be contacted after the date you were due to go to the theatre. However, we want to reassure you that you will be contacted, and your order will be processed, but please do bear with us.

We’d like to thank everyone who has been patient and kind in dealing with their ticket providers so far and we are sorry that we cannot process your order as quickly as we would like.

Please do not contact your credit card company as that will slow the process down and put an additional burden on our box office and ticket agent teams.

In order for us to serve our audiences the best we can, please do not get in touch with your point of sale if you have booked for performances after 31 May. Please be reassured that if we have to cancel future performances you will be directly contacted by your theatre or ticket provider. Our producers continue to plan for all eventualities dependent on the individual needs of their shows and we will provide further updates on specific shows as and when they become available.

We look forward to welcoming you back into our theatres as soon as we are allowed to resume performances. In the meantime stay safe and healthy.