Amongst a small Cornish fishing village, the Button family are awaiting a new arrival. When the day comes, it is not as it seems, when baby Benjamin is in fact an old man - aged 70 at birth, and only getting younger as the years go on. Locked away and forced to hide as an unexpected phenomenon, his life was unfulfilling as his dreams seemed to fade away. This was until he managed to escape one night, and since the wider world was revealed, there was no going back, and aspirations flooded Benjamin Button's brain.
Each actor-musician in the cast play multiple roles, though Jamie Parker becomes the lead throughout. While the continuity works for fluidity purposes, as the age shift of Benjamin occurs, it perhaps could be more impactful with different casting to reflect this, as there would be more distinction between time changes, but the piece ultimately does work as it is, and Jamie does a commendable job at conveying the part at all points. Incorporating plenty of the enchanting folk score, the stomping on the wooden panels amongst an intriguing harbour-style set, will certainly draw you in, and you can't get enough of it.
Entering through trap doors, and immediately demonstrating the immaculate use of space on the Southwark Playhouse (Elephant) stage, the music of the 12-piece band - featuring many instruments not explored in standard musicals - is joyous. Adorned with buoys, nets and other paraphernalia of the sort to provide atmospheric scenery, the place isn't vastly altered over the course of the piece, but there are various opportunities that give enough back, with the levels of staging being a dynamic choice.
With Phillipa Hogg and Benedict Halter playing Benjamin's parents, the show begins with the shock of their 'newborn', and subsequent distress this event caused to Mary Button as mother who takes her own life following a hauntingly beautiful rendition of 'The Kraken's Lullaby'. As most songs are used to narrate the story as it unfolds, the lyrics are crucial to audience understanding, and therefore cleverly written and directed by Jethro Compton, in conjunction with choreography by Chi-San Howard.
Regularly mentioning the notion of time as a reoccurring motif, it not only informs of the chapters of Benjamin's life as it moves on, but acts as the metaphor for life and death surrounding the message of the show, reminding us that life is finite, and to make each second worth it, especially holding our dearest ones close. After resigning the idea of having a loving family around him, aged 55 on his first outing, Benjamin visits the local pub, meeting barmaid Elowen Keene (Molly Osborne), who is only in her 20s at the time. Falling for her deeply, they wish to share lifelong memories, starting with a stunning duet, 'The Moon and the Sea'. But with a rocky road ahead for both of them, will they manage to defeat all odds, even through the biggest of secrets?
When considered with any depth, this relationship, and further storyline can be a bit dubious in morality. However, for the purpose of the plot and its importance to the narrative, and being quite a long musical too, the overall show is presented in a fairly faultless way.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a sweet little musical with a whole host of positives behind it. A stand out composition, talented performers, and creative staging makes for an enjoyable watch.