Review: Caroline, or Change, Hampstead

With the magnificent Sharon D Clarke at the helm, Caroline, or Change transfers to the Hampstead Theatre London with all its power intact

“Dressed in white and feelin’ low,
talkin’ to the washer and the radio”

Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s complex and challenging civil rights musical Caroline, or Change makes its long-awaited London return to the Hampstead theatre, more than a decade after its well-received National Theatre production took the Olivier for Best New Musical but found no further life.

Michael Longhurst’s production was first seen in Chichester last May (here’s my review) and whilst it is a shame that that original cast aren’t all present here (the glorious Nicola Hughes, Gloria Onitiri, Jennifer Saayeng all now elsewhere), it holds on to the titanic talents of Sharon D Clarke as Caroline Thibideaux.

Words can barely to justice to the way she inhabits the role of this African-American maid in a white Jewish household in 1963 Louisiana, suffused with melancholy at the hopelessness of her situation, even while society promises to shift around her. For her world doesn’t seem to be able to change at all, particularly when the (monetary) change of a child gets involved.

Kushner’s book is tinged with half-autobiographical recall from his own childhood and playfully creates companions for Caroline to distract from her loneliness. But it is the vast scope of Tesori’s score that really grabs the attention. Motown sits alongside klezmer, jazz with the sound of the church, it all somehow melds into something far greater than the sum of its parts, elemental in a message that is still struggling to be heard today.  

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Alastair Muir
Caroline, or Change is booking at the Hampstead Theatre until 21st April

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