Re-review: Follies 2019, National Theatre

Follies 2019 remains the show that I need right now

“I’m so glad I came”

Just a quickie for this revisit to Follies, which remains as perfect a piece of musical theatre as I could hope for. I loved it then but I really love it now, Joanna Riding is just heartbreakingly perfect as Sally, she really brings something to the role that somehow eluded Imelda Staunton (for me at least), Alexander Hanson is superb in tracing Ben’s tragic fall, and Janie Dee and Peter Forbes maintain their stellar work as Phyllis and Buddy (seriously, Dee is a proper showstopper).

And as is surely appropriate in Dominic Cooke’s production, ghosts of the past interplay with what we’re seeing from top to bottom. It was great to see Dame Felicity Lott as Heidi, a different but no less affecting proposition than Dame Josephine Barstow (there truly ain’t nothing like a…). And the young talents of Gemma Sutton, Ian McIntosh, Harry Hepple and Christine Tucker are eloquently elegant as the younger incarnations of the central quartet. Continue reading “Re-review: Follies 2019, National Theatre”

Review: Follies 2019, National Theatre

The Olivier Award-winning Follies returns to the National Theatre in richer, deeper, more resonant form and just blows me away

“It’s the cat’s pyjamas”

Like the ghosts of their younger selves that haunt the characters in Follies so beautifully in this production, for those who were lucky enough to catch its superlative Olivier Award-winning 2017 run, so too do our memories interplay with what we’re seeing, inducing some soul-shiveringly exceptional moments that are almost metatheatrical in the feelings they provoke. 

The tingle of anticipation is never far away but the show somehow feels richer, deeper, more resonant in the note of melancholy it strikes as it exposes nostalgia for the rose-tinted self-delusion it so often becomes. Janie Dee’s Phyllis somehow feels more desolate, especially in her bitterly brilliant ‘Could I Leave You’; Tracie Bennett scorches the roof once more in ‘I’m Still Here’ in what feels like a more internal performance now; we’re all at least a year older… Continue reading “Review: Follies 2019, National Theatre”

Re-review: Follies, National Theatre

 
“Darling, shall we dance?”
 
Not too much more to say about Follies that I didn’t cover last time, suffice to say it’s just such a luxuriously fantastic show and I think I could watch it over and over! The head-dresses! Everything Janie Dee does! The orchestra! How no-one seems to be falling down that staircase! The staging! The shade of mint green in Loveland! The Staunton’s icy bitterness in ‘Losing My Mind’! The amount that Josephine Barstow has now made me cry, twice! The Quast! Just get booking now, while you still can.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 3rd January, best availability from 6th November

Follies will be broadcast by NT Live to cinemas in the UK and internationally on Thursday 16 November.

 

Review: Follies, National Theatre

 

An utterly majestic production of Sondheim’s Follies is a masterpiece for the National Theatre

“All things beautiful must die”

Well this is what we have a National Theatre for. For Vicki Mortimer’s set design that both stretches towards the heights of the Olivier and lingers some 30 years back in the past; for the extraordinary detail and feathered delights of the costumes; for the lush sound of an orchestra of 21 under Nigel Lilley’s musical direction; for a production that revels in the exuberance and experience of its cast of 37. And all for what? For a musical that, despite its iconic status in the theatre bubble, is more than likely to raise a ‘huh?’ from the general public (at least from the sampling in my office!).

Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics) and James Goldman’s (book) Follies is a show that has a long history of being tinkered with and more often than not, is as likely to be found in a concert presentation (as in its last London appearance at the Royal Albert Hall) as it is fully staged. Which only makes Dominic Cooke’s production here all the more attractive, not just for aficionados but for the casual theatregoer too. Using the original book with just a smattering of small changes, this is musical theatre close to its most luxurious, and a bittersweetly life-affirming thrill to watch. Continue reading “Review: Follies, National Theatre”

Review: Gypsy, Curve

“What did you do it all for Mama?”

Gypsy is one of those shows that I’ve heard much about, it is extremely highly regarded in the US, but have had little real contact with. Bernadette Peters, Patti LuPone and Tyne Daly have taken on the iconic role of Mama Rose in recent years with very mixed results, but it is many years since anyone tried to bring it to the UK. Director Paul Kerryson has taken on the challenge though at the Curve in Leicester, with British/Australian chanteuse Caroline O’Connor in the lead role and so I took my first ever trip to Leicester to see what all the fuss was about.

The story takes its inspiration from the memoirs of burlesque dancer Gypsy Rose Lee which details the remorseless drive of her pushy stage mother from hell Mama Rose as she lived out her own dreams of being a performer by putting her two daughters onto the stage in a touring vaudeville act. Her relentless drive comes at great cost though, alienating one daughter who runs off, pushing the other into becoming a stripper and losing the man who has stood by her for so long. Continue reading “Review: Gypsy, Curve”

Review: The Invisible Man, Menier Chocolate Factory

“There’s something wrong with this…”

The Invisible Man is the Menier Chocolate Factory’s winter offering this year, following on from a healthy run of transfers including Sweet Charity, A Little Night Music and La Cage aux Folles. The main plot is taken from HG Wells’ story of a strange man swathed in bandages who arrives at a small village pub to take a room. It emerges that he is a scientist and a victim of an experiment gone wrong that has rendered him invisible and is seeking peace and quiet in order to come up with a cure. But the nosy villagers drive him mad and he snaps, seeking world domination instead. It has the makings of a chilling sci-fi story but wrapped up in an Edwardian music hall setting as it is here by Ken Hill, with Pierrot-based clown songs creating a vaudevillian mood as the ‘players’ perform the story as above, but full of a broad nudge-nudge-wink-wink bawdiness.

The music hall framing just seemed like an excuse to shoehorn in a song or two, as if the Menier couldn’t quite put on a Christmas show that didn’t feature singing, but it was a laboured device that grated with me every time it reappeared as it served to further diminish the impact of Wells’ story. Tonally, it remained at this broad, slapstick, pratfall-heavy level throughout which I must admit raised the rare chuckle but mostly left me cold. Because there was no attempt to give the storytelling any depth, I just didn’t care about anything even when the characters were the only people preventing society from collapsing entirely (I think) and with no variety in there, it just gets so damn repetitive: there’s only so much people pretending to be punched and bum tweaks that one can take.

And though Paul Kieve’s illusions were proficiently done for a fringe venue, none of them were so spectacular in the end (though I am not sure what would have actually impressed me) and they also suffered from repetition and a lack of variety. John Gordon Sinclair’s voice was the most effective tool that this production had, along with his eerie presence on the stage (his face not revealed until the bitter end) but even the chilling aspects here were negated by an over-reliance on ostensibly spooky music which quickly grew tiresome.


But when you have quality in your cast, it can’t help but occasionally shine through and there were moments here something more was hinted at. Jo Stone-Fewings as the local aristocrat with hidden depths and Geraldine Fitzgerald as a pipe-smoking Scottish schoolteacher had a great connection together with their burgeoning relationship, Christopher Godwin was nicely droll as a jack-of-all-trades and Maria Friedman’s bawdy hostess was also well-pitched. But there was also hamminess, sometimes just about ok as in Gerard Carey’s camp vicar, but Natalie Casey’s dim maid was a screechy mess which had me cringing and I didn’t react well to Gary Wilmot’s faux bonhomie and his constant breaking of the fourth wall to remind us, as if we could forget, of the music hall setting.

It was a bit of a random decision for me to go to see The Invisible Man. I had tickets for much earlier in the run but managed to offload them to a friend so I could attend another engagement and the feedback that they and others gave led me to think I had dodged a bullet somewhat. But it is easy to have an opinion that isn’t backed up and so in some respects I am glad that I took the time to see this for myself, even if it was to confirm reports of a painfully unfunny turkey.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes
Programme cost: £3
Booking until 13th February