Photo: Helen Maybanks

It’s a rare skill to write a musical that’s both poignant and utterly insane at the same time. Singing washing machines, a radio that turns into a Supremes-style girl group and a thin plot about a Jewish family and their maid in 1960s America? On paper it sounds deeply unentertaining and utterly ungrounded but in reality this is a real corker of a show to watch. Who knew that household appliances could hold a tune so well?

Photo: Helen Maybanks

Loosely based on incidents in the childhood of writer Tony Kushner (Angels in America), the story is about Caroline, a poor black maid, and a misguided decision by her employer to augment her meagre wages by leaving loose change in the laundry. The format is more operatic with a ‘sung-through’ style (i.e. no-one speaks) and the songs aren’t delineated. Rather than feeling unstructured and messy, though, it’s a delightful mash up of styles with a mix of gospel, soul, jazz and traditional Jewish music.

Photo: Helen Maybanks

Sharon D Clarke is measured and moving as the eponymous maid who the civil rights movement hasn’t touched yet, ably supported by a cast of equally belting voices. There’s a sense of menace and of hope and amid all the beautifully staged eccentricity there’s a story that feels grounded and rational.

Caroline or Change, The Playhouse Theatre, Northumberland Avenue, WC2N 5DE. Tickets £20-85, until 6 April 2019.

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