Sylvia Reviews – Starring Beverly Knight ★★★

Reviews are coming in for new musical Sylvia at The Old Vic starring Beverley Knight and Sharon Rose.

Directed and choreographed by Kate Prince, Sylvia returns to The Old Vic from its original try-out in 2018, with a mix of dance, hip hop, funk and soul, to shine a light on a remarkable moment in history.

This revolutionary story celebrates the life of Sylvia Pankhurst – feminist, activist, pacifist, socialist, rebel – who changed the lives of working women and men across the world, and boasts original music by Josh Cohen and DJ Walde, a book by Kate Prince with Priya Parmar, and lyrics by Kate Prince.

Beverley Knight (The Drifters Girl, Sister Act) stars as Emmeline Pankhurst in the musical, with Sharon Rose (Hamilton, Motown the Musical) as her daughter Sylvia, the lesser-known Pankhurst at the heart of the Suffragette movement.

The full cast includes Bradley Charles as Lord Cromer/Richard Pankhurst/Alan, Kandaka Moore as Mrs Parsons/Sophia Singh, Kelly Agbowu as Mrs Flora ‘The General’ Drummond/Mrs Savoy, Verity Blyth as Clementine Churchill/Mrs Scurr, Kimmy Edwards as Emily Davison/Lillie Hardie/Mrs Watkins, Alex Gaumond as Keir Hardie, Jade Hackett as Lady Jennie Churchill/Mrs Payne/Edith Garrud, Sweeney Holdsworth as Silvio Corio, Stevie Hutchinson as Lloyd George/Lord Curzon, Kate Ivory Jordan as Annie Kenney/Norah Smyth, Hannah Khemoh as Understudy Emmeline Pankhurst, Jaye Marshall as Ensemble, Razak Osman as Harry Pankhurst/Sir Almroth Wright/Asquith/King George V, Jay Perry as Winston Churchill/George Lansbury, Sharon Rose as Sylvia Pankhurst, Kirstie Skivington as Adela Pankhurst/Mrs Bird and Ellena Vincent as Christabel Pankhurst. Ensemble players include Sinead Long, Antoine Murray-Straughan and Malachi Welch.

Joining Kate Prince in the creative team are: Set & Costumes by Ben Stones, Lighting by Natasha Chivers, Sound by Tony Gayle, Video & Animation by Andrzej Goulding, Wigs, Hair & Make-up by Cynthia de la Rosa, Co-Music Supervisors are Mark Dickman & Leonn Meade, Casting by Stuart Burt CDG & Oliver Scullion, Dramaturg is Lolita Chakrabarti, Additional Music by Kate Prince, Additional Lyrics by Tachia Newall, Music Production by Josh Cohen & DJ Walde, Musical Director is Sean Green, Voice Coach is Charlie Hughes D’Aeth, Associate Director is Dannielle ‘Rhimes’ Lecointe, Associate Choreographer is Jade Hackett, Resident Director & Choreographer is Chris Alozie, Costume Supervisor is Tash Prynne, Props Supervisor is Fahmida Bakht, Digital Music Programmer is Lucy Baker-Swinburn for Switch Audio, Musicians’ Contractor is Oli Briant and Creative Consultant is Beverley Knight.

Sylvia plays at the Old Vic until 1 April 2023.

Read reviews from the Telegraph, the Times and more.

More reviews to follow.

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Average Critics Rating

Sylvia reviews

The Times

"Beverley Knight shines in a stodgy suffragette show"

"There are some stirring songs buried in the director Kate Prince’s hip-hop celebration of the suffragette and socialist Sylvia Pankhurst, daughter of Emmeline. Unfortunately, to hear them you have to sit through a painfully disjointed storyline."

"... the good news is that the soul singer Beverley Knight returns in the role of Emmeline. Her voice, when you get to hear it, remains spine-tingling. There just isn’t enough of it."

"The book — credited to Prince and Priya Parmar — tries to cram in far too much information, much like that other hip-hop epic Hamilton."

"At its best, Sylvia has the burning passion of a street demo. What a shame it keeps wandering down dead ends."

Clive Davis, The Times
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The Guardian

"Storming show sets suffragettes to soul, funk and hip-hop"

"Historical characters bust contemporary dance moves while the troubled relationship between Sylvia Pankhurst and her mother Emmeline is laid bare"

"So many shows seem to want to be the new Hamilton. This witty, high-voltage musical about feminist firebrand Sylvia Pankhurst just might be it. It carries the same revisionism and irrepressible energy, its cast boasting Hamilton alumni too, even if it feels self-consciously fashioned around Lin-Manuel Miranda’s concept."

"Prince, as founder of the ZooNation dance company, creates fun, frothy choreography as well with historical characters busting contemporary dance moves with knowing winks."

"Diverse casting effectively reclaims the movement from the shadow of “white woman” feminism. One niggle is that well-known activists of colour such as Sophia Duleep Singh do not feature, and working-class characters might have been portrayed in a meatier way. But these are niggles. This is a storm of a show which can easily be re-envisaged for the West End."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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The Telegraph

"The suffragettes meet Hamilton – with a pantomime Churchill"

"There are anachronistic joys in this musical, anchored by Beverley Knight and Sharon Rose, but it’s both overloaded and undercooked"

"... I’m torn between admiration and browbeaten retreat in contemplating Sylvia, a newish musical about the firebrand campaigner’s march to shake up the ballot-box for good"

"Knight and Rose both possess commanding and lung-busting presences, no more so than in a garrulous mother and daughter stand-off, You’ve Changed, which combines emotional recrimination with a resumé of their conflicting approaches to activism, which resulted in Sylvia being expelled from the suffragette union her mother founded. But compared to Hamilton, there’s an odd sense of both overload and under-development..."

"The evening honours the subversion of the Pankhursts in its air of mischief, enshrines their defiance in fist- and roof-raising numbers, and induces discomfort at the sight of them and their kind being scoffed at, beaten and force-fed. Of course, there’s no contesting the value of the campaign for women’s suffrage, or the effort put into this homage. Still, just as that vote was hard-won, Sylvia still feels a few slogging steps short of victory."

Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph
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i News

"Beverley Knight lets rip in this fast, fearsome suffragette musical"

"Kate Prince blends hip hop, dance and funk in her pulsing new musical spin on the Pankhurst family"

"What the vibe director/choreographer/book writer/lyricist Prince is aiming for is Six-style sass meets Hamilton, with Sylvia’s colour-blind casting and playfully irreverent approach to the language of history."

"The show does feel repetitive, as songs, scenes and choreography merge too often undifferentiated into one another. And it doesn’t reach the heights of Six or Hamilton."

"[Sharon] Rose makes the most of the fact that Sylvia is the only character with any real depth of definition, presenting her as passionate, conflicted and mountingly enraged by the conditions of the urban working poor. "

Fiona Mountford, i News
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The Evening Standard

"Beverley Knight is magnificent in mixed suffragette musical"

"The sheer charisma and vocal power of the leads transcend the more stilted aspects of this hip-hop show about the Pankhursts"

"Though this hip-hop musical about Emmeline and Sylvia Pankhurst’s struggles – for female emancipation and with each other – is delivered with verve and panache, Hamilton it most definitely ain’t. Written, directed and choreographed by Zoo Nation’s Kate Prince, to music by Josh Cohen and DJ Walde, it aims to be larkily tongue-in-cheek but often seems plain silly."

"The score is through-written so almost everything is sung. The bass-driven funk of the early numbers is effective... But there are too many soupy ballads and too many attempts to hammer political history or suffragette/suffragist schisms into a jaunty chorus."

"I dunno, maybe we need a by-the-numbers musical to remind us of the heroic, flawed pioneers of UK feminism. Prince at least stages the show with huge energy and skill."

Nick Curtis, The Evening Standard
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The Stage

"Ensemble is drilled to perfection"

"Breathless hip-hop history of the suffragette movement is broad, but at times exhilarating"

"Prince’s motormouth lyrics are adroitly crammed with intricate stacked rhymes, as the performers undulate, grind and pop their way through a whistle-stop tour of the Sylvia Pankhurst story. The obvious comparison is with mighty musical blockbuster Hamilton. But with its cartoonish tone and fist-pumping, feminist-lite energy, the show is a closer sister to Six, which puts a similar girl-power gloss on the wives of Henry VIII. Nuance is sacrificed to high-voltage freneticism. Still, it’s rambunctious fun – and at its best, it captures enough of the euphoric passion of protest to make you, too, want to take to the streets."

"The gleeful misogyny, as well as the pleas of workers for decent housing, childcare and fair wages, are all piquantly pertinent. Nor does Prince flinch from the brutal realpolitik of the suffragette movement, or the accusations of terrorism made against it. But too often people and events pass in a blur..."

Sam Marlowe, The Stage
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"Beverley Knight's formidable vocal talents aren't enough to rescue this staid suffragette musical"

"In the wake of mega hits ‘Hamilton’ and ‘Emilia’, it feels like a hip hop suffragette musical is what theatre fans are crying out for. But despite a dynamite cast, ZooNation director Kate Prince’s ‘Sylvia’ probably won’t get audiences rioting in the streets. Retooled after an Old Vic run in 2018 that was hastily restyled as a work-in-progress, it’s now polished but painfully polite, steering clear of political rabble-rousing in favour of a historically faithful trundle through early twentieth-century politics."

"As Mama Emmeline, Beverley Knight adds a bit of welcome fire, but she feels underused"

"I feel like a curmudgeon for saying all this because ‘Sylvia’ is attempting – and in some ways achieving – something massively ambitious. For all its flaws, it’s never anything less than exciting to watch, thanks to the wit and dynamism of Prince’s choreography, the formidable talents of this note-perfect cast, and powerful songs..."

Alice Saville, TimeOut
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The Observer

"Dance, not speech, powers Kate Prince’s suffragette musical"

"Sylvia unrolls its story of a mighty movement with exhilaration, in uncompromising terms."

"Kate Prince – writer, director and choreographer – is on the brink of something stage-changing with her musical about the life of Sylvia Pankhurst..."

"Beverley Knight, with a voice like a missile, and Sharon Rose, her sound more creamy and rounded, are tremendous as Emmeline and Sylvia..."

"What holds the evening back is the script, unevenly episodic and often stilted. Dance is the essential motor of the show. Excitingly so."

Susannah Clapp, The Observer
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Daily Mail

"Slightly tamed suffragette"

"Audaciously, it casts black actors in the white leading roles: soul diva Beverley Knight as Emmeline Pankhurst; Sharon Rose as her daughter Sylvia... And yet, with so much political kerosene to burn, Kate Prince's show is too often dampened by its own virtue."

"When the cast do hit us with some voltage, the house comes to a boil instantly."

"I also couldn't help feeling that both Knight and Rose are under-used. Knight gets to give just a few blasts of her trademark gospel belting; and the earnest portrayal of Sylvia demands that Rose keeps her voice under a lid of girlish restraint. I'd much rather the show let rip with theatrical guerrilla tactics, burned the house down and sent us out to man — or indeed woman — the barricades."

Patrick Marmion, Daily Mail
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The New York Times

"She [Sylvia Pankhurst] is at the impassioned center of this well-meaning, if dramatically sketchy, musical from the director-choreographer Kate Prince. The impressive designer here, as with the Sheffield-set musical [Standing at the Sky's Edge], is Ben Stones."

"... Sylvia” has a superficial feel that “Hamilton” never had: It makes caricatures of the historical figures it presents, including Winston Churchill, and skimps on the family drama at its fractured heart, though the soul singer Beverley Knight is in tremendous voice as Sylvia’s mother, Emmeline. It’s left to the giddy, near-perpetual motion of the staging to carry us through, even when the writing doesn’t. "

Matt Wolf, The New York Times
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📷 Main photo: Sylvia at The Old Vic. Photo by Manuel Harlan

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