Reviews London TheatreWest End & Central Published 4 May 2016

Review: The Toxic Avenger at Southwark Playhouse

Southwark Playhouse ⋄ 22nd April - 21st May 2016

Not quite intoxicating: David Ralf reviews Joe DiPietro and David Bryan’s take on the 1984 cult classic.

David Ralf
The Toxic Avenger at Southwark Playhouse. Photo: Claire Bilyard.

The Toxic Avenger at Southwark Playhouse. Photo: Claire Bilyard.

Who Will Save New Jersey? Kamala Khan, of course. But if you are looking for a non-Marvel hero who can still rip the arms off a punk like a miffed Bruce Banner then mild-mannered Melvin (turned green, muscley and melty after being dunked in toxic waste) is a tongue-in-cheek option from 1984’s cult film The Toxic Avenger.

Melvin (played pleasingly Rick Moranis by Mark Anderson) uncovers the mayor’s plot to line her own pockets by allowing toxic waste from New York to be dumped in New Jersey, by her own company, Good Earth. She sends high-school aged goons to silence him, and so creates The Toxic Avenger, who then alternates between cleaning up the city (mostly by ripping off people’s limbs) and keeping his green, bubbly face out of sight of everyone, even his own mother. The only person who isn’t horrified by his appearance is Sarah (Hannah Grover), a blind woman who he saves from the Mayor’s goons.

With nothing in the book or lyrics to give Sarah much depth, the production plays her blindness almost exclusively for laughs, and even more tastelessly, visual gags. The uncomfortable choices continue with a song entitled “Bitch-Slut-Liar-Whore” in which Lizzii Hills performs as both the Mayor and Melvin’s mother having a nonsensical argument in a salon. It’s the first-half closer, and though Hills skill is impressive as she switches between roles, it’s a bizarre note to end on before the interval.

All this would be somewhat ameliorated if this were simply a revival of an 80s classic, resurrecting a campy B-movie and refusing to ‘soften’ its awkward angles. But the musical is from 2008, and creators Joe DiPietro and David Bryan made key changes from the original film, including increasing the environmentalist theme. So it’s strange that these tone-deaf moments proliferate (a song entitled Thank God She’s Blind – really?) through the piece.

To make matters worse, it’s a set of highly familiar songs, with recognisable strains of Rocky Horror Picture Show and Little Shop of Horrors. The key duet between Melvin and Sarah – Hot Toxic Love – and Mark Pickering’s folksy ballad The Legend of the Toxic Avenger succeed almost alone in the show because of their simply bonkers lyrics.

A brilliantly realized production from Aria Entertainment, with fantastic prosthetics, a hugely ambitious set with barrels piled high, a talented band and a small, versatile cast of strong musical performers. Sadly the material doesn’t hold up to the faith they place in it.

The Toxic Avenger is on until 21st May 2016. Click here for tickets.

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David Ralf

David Ralf is a writer and critic in London. He won the Sunday Times Harold Hobson Award for reviewing at the ISDF in 2012, and the Kenneth Tynan Prize for his reviews for the Oxford Theatre Review in 2011. He draws pens and doodles at Pens by Pens.

Review: The Toxic Avenger at Southwark Playhouse Show Info


Directed by Benji Sperring

Written by Book and Lyrics: Joe DiPetrio; Music and Lyrics: David Bryan

Cast includes Mark Anderson, Hannah Grove, Ashley Samuels, Marc Pickering, Lizzii Hills. Band: Alex Beetschen, Elaine Booth, Felix Stickland, Sam Edgington, Tristan Butler

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