REVIEW: Unexpected Joy ★★★★ – Southwark Playhouse

“…witty, sassy, warm-hearted, relatable, and, as the title promises, joyful.”


West End Theatre Guide


Unexpected Joy is a musical created by Bill Russell and Janet Hood, a piece which they began writing before gay marriage was made legal in the USA, and it remains relevant today as battles for rights still continue to rage.

The story is centred around three generations of strong women: the eponymous Joy, a singer-songwriter hippie with a fun-loving, love-all approach to life; her daughter, the conflicted and confused Rachel, whose reaction to her upbringing has led her to a strong Christian faith, but yet her fundamental beliefs are at war with her desire for peace in her family; and Tamara, Rachel’s daughter, a sassy, freedom-seeking adolescent. The family reunion rapidly descends into chaos when Joy reveals she is going to get married again – to Lou, a female musician with views vastly different from Rachel’s, and this adds more feistiness and spice to the already heated situation.

Each of the four characters have undeniable flaws and difficulty in expressing their emotions, and they find security and certainty in passionately standing up for what they believe in, no matter how contrary it is to the beliefs of those around them. The four are each very different people, but they are brought together by love and their passion for music, and, in the end, acceptance of their diversity.

The cast of four comprises: Janet Fullerlove (Oxy and the Morons, Fiddler on the Roof, Shakespeare in Love) as Joy, Jodie Jacobs (Myth, Bananaman, Lizzie) as Rachel, Kelly Sweeney (professional debut) as Tamara, and Melanie Marshall (Jane Eyre, Guys and Dolls, The Infidel) as Lou. The four have fantastic, powerhouse voices and maintain an obvious chemistry while their very different characters go off in their separate directions.

Unexpected Joy is witty, sassy, warm-hearted, relatable, and, as the title promises, joyful. It’s wonderful to see a show with such strong female leads, and the uplifting story is accompanied by a delightful score, including, ‘Like A Good Girl’, ‘What A Woman Can Do’, ‘You Are My Worst Nightmare’ and ‘Unexpected Joy’.

Unexpected Joy is showing at the Southwark Playhouse until 29th September (to book tickets, click here). For more information on your visit to the Southwark Playhouse, read our guide.