If Hamilton is any indication, audiences love to learn about history through the witty lyrics and beats of rap music. Although Sylvia at the Old Vic Theatre in London’s West End takes on the same technique, that is where all similarities end. Sylvia is a creative behemoth of its own, telling the story of women’s right activist Sylvia Pankhurst through catchy tunes and well-placed humour. Those who enjoyed Hamilton will certainly enjoy Sylvia, but don’t be expecting anything remotely similar in style or production. This is a musical with its own personality and plenty of historical insight to offer.
Well established director Kate Prince takes over the direction and choreography for this one, and she’s really put together a gem of a show. Prince has a background with dance theatre, having directed Some Like it Hip-Hop and Into the Hoods, but this is her first foray into the pure musical realm. You wouldn’t guess that, however, as this is a polished, entertaining, and mature production with everything you would expect from a veteran director. Prince’s passion for equality shines through with this production, and the hip hop brings the perfect attitude that she is trying to portray.
Credit must be given to Prince for casting this production so beautifully. Genesis Lynea takes on the role of Sylvia Pankhurst, showcasing a strong personality and performing with the sort of passion that is required to play such a revolutionary character. She doesn’t miss a beat, bringing plenty of emotion into her performance while she shows off her exceptional vocal talent and dancing abilities. Pankhurst is an iconic character but not without her own personal demons, and Lynea does an excellent job of balancing these traits throughout the story.
Prince’s choreography adds a lot to the performance, as the actors weave in and out of unique, fun numbers that transition perfectly between scenes. Credit the players with being able to keep up with the dances, as these are not simple numbers. The original music from Josh Cohen and DJ Walde makes for a perfect combination with the dances, and the lyrics are witty, informative, and entertaining. Beverley Knight joins Lynea as her mother Emmeline Pankhurst, and the two show a relationship that is full of love but often struggles and even breaks down completely at points.
The story itself is enough to break your heart at times, and the cast are able to do so with their amazing abilities. However, it is truly an inspiring story of a strong historical figure who fought oppression to help the women’s suffrage movement immensely. Many who are passionate about this topic will walk away completely stunned at the performance’s ability to really drive home the points and may even have their eyes opened to further than they could have ever imagined. Yes, this is a fun performance with plenty of whimsy, but it is done well enough to truly be a life changing experience.