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A man suffers in a cave in this audacious American musical
‘Floyd Collins’ is an obscure-ish American musical about a man getting stuck in a cave. Which sounds terrible, but we know it’s not, because Tina Landau and Adam Guettel’s audacious, moving, bluegrass-tinged 1994 account of the real last days of Floyd Collins - a Kentucky cave explorer who became a cause célèbre when he became trapped underground in 1925 - played to great acclaim at Southwark Playhouse a few years back.
Is it too soon for a fresh production? Nah. ‘Floyd Collins’ is more than good enough to handle a couple of revivals in swift succession. And there’s a big difference between the dank, subterranean confines of the old Southwark Playhouse and the faded grandeur of Wilton’s Music Hall. Director Jonathan Butterell doesn’t go mad with his staging – the set is basically a bit of scaffolding – but he uses the space well. There is something a bit church-like about Wilton’s, and when Ashley Robinson’s happy-go-lucky Floyd becomes trapped, he remains stood at the centre of the stage, suffering like a religious effigy, even as the action shifts to the outside would where he is rapidly becoming a celebrity of sorts.
Really, it’s a gripping account of a Floyd’s family’s attempts to rescue him, and an intense, anguished tale of brotherly love between Floyd and his more intense younger brother Homer (Samuel Thoma). But it is also about the media spotlight: there is something horribly resonant with current events about the way the world turns its eye on Floyd, but seems to largely view his suffering as entertainemnt.
The songs veer from Bourbon-soaked drinking ditties go beautiful, wordless numbers that convey something of the beauty of Floyd’s secret underground word. And they’re finely sung by a great cast – stand out is the always excellent Rebecca Trehearn, late of the West End’s ‘Show Boat’, whose voice brings something almost spiritual to Floyd’s eccentric sister Nessie.
Another fine revival of a musical that’s become established as a fringe classic – but will it ever go overground?