One of the joys of having this blog is the aide memoire aspect of it, the theatrical diary that it has become, allowing me to trace how my tastes have shifted. I say this in particular reference to Floyd Collins, a show I didn’t much enjoy the first time I saw it at its 2012 production at the Southwark Playhouse and yet which on this revisit, four years later, I adored.
A substantial part of it comes with the musical complexity of Adam Guettel’s score, one I (still) think few people would fall in love with instantly, but also one which has repaid repeated listens and the breadth of performers yearning to sing his music (Audra McDonald, Kelli O’Hara…), incrementally convincing me of its worth and culminating in the gloriously revelatory sound of Tom Brady’s band tucked away in the balcony of Wilton’s Music Hall.
Jonathan Butterell’s production revels in its simplicity, the steel scaffolding of the split-stage design allowing for an interesting perspective, placing the titular character at the heart of the action – even if he is trapped down a cave for most of the show – whilst his friends and family try to free him. And even in 1920s small-town Kentucky, Tina Landau shows how a media circus whipped up around him, Butterell letting us draw the parallels of rapacious capitalism for ourselves.
And through the sheer intensity of the performances, any perceived thinness in the drama just melts away. As Floyd himself, Ashley Robinson is fiercely committed in showing both the external and internal life of this tragic figure, Daniel Booroff is a compelling figure as the reporter who grows close to him, and Samuel Thomas as Floyd’s brother equally impresses as he tries to keep spirits high in an increasingly desperate situation.
The night belongs to Rebecca Trehearn though, with her gorgeously nuanced performance as Floyd’s psychologically damaged sister Nellie. Gifted with some of the more beautiful musical moments and possessed of a radiant soprano that is always a joy to hear, she makes this Floyd Collins even more of a must-see.