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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

a touching musical about a man who ages backwards

Youth is wasted on the young. Maybe.

First seen off West End four years ago, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (The Musical) takes F Scott Fitzgerald’s 1922 short supernatural story and 2008 Brad Pitt film, smashes them both together, and shifts the setting to Cornwall.

Benjamin Button (Jamie Parker) is born, as a 70-year-old, to bemused parents in December 1918. Time marches forward, he ages backwards.

Parker never does the expected, and is never sloppy or over-expressive. The role of Benjamin seems to have released something in him.

There is no overkill in writer-director Jethro Compton’s production that is always self-aware that this is a stage version of a story that most people are familiar with from the film: a man who is old when he is born and an infant when he dies.

The chief pleasure, however, lies in the music and the production. Some of the songs – especially the wistful ‘Matter of Time’ – etches itself on the memory.

Sometimes the evening feels a little underpowered, and while Molly Osborne and the enthusiastic 12-strong actor-musician ensemble deliver, some of the 22 scenes need a touch more definition.

But the whole Benjamin Button cast is blessed with a zest and captivating charm I have rarely seen equalled, and one leaves this ambitious production in a mist of joy and tears.

Yes, there are rough edges that could be chopped, yes, there are occasional scenes that are not powerfully played. Yes, it is too long. But there is so much more that is big and bold, imaginative and great-hearted.

Olivier Award-winning actor Jamie Parker plays the title character who ages in reverse in the actor-muso production at Southwark Playhouse Elephant

Indeed, it’s hard not to compare it to foot-stomping musicals Come From Away and a Once for all its sentiment. Darren Clark’s score is lush; what makes it so special is the ripple of bitterness beneath the surface.

The film was a twee train wreck. This Benjamin Button, however, is a multifaceted gem, chock-full of love, charm and joy, and it fits the Southwark Playhouse Elephant space like a glove.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button runs until 1 July (020 7407 0234southwarkplayhouse.co.uk)