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”

Review: Network, National Theatre

“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore”

 With Network, Lee Hall’s adaptation of Paddy Chayefsky’s 1976 film, Ivo van Hove re-asserts his place as one of the premier theatremakers working, anywhere. A satire that managed to predict just how powerful a tool populist anger can be when leveraged effectively, it is transformed into the immersive bustle of a TV studio, that of UBS Evening News where old hack Howard Beale – a transcendent performance by Bryan Cranston – has been handed his notice. Though initially appearing to accept it with good grace, he causes an almighty media stir when he declares, on air, that he’s going to kill himself, triggering a most unlikely rebirth as a truth-spilling ‘prophet’.

And as ever, van Hove and designer Jan Versweyveld challenge our notions of theatrical space and how it is used. An onstage restaurant puts (some) audience members right in the thick of the action, the fourth wall gets well and truly shattered, and the use of live video and big screens forces us into the role of active observers – as Beale goes live on air, do you watch Cranston himself, do you watch him onscreen, do you watch the team observing him from the producers’ box…the multiplicity of perspectives reminds us how easy it is to manipulate media, how there can always be other sides to the story. Continue reading “Review: Network, 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”

CD Review: Sunday in the Park with George (2006 London Cast Recording)

“Everyone gets along with him, that’s the problem with him”

In listening to cast recordings, one can get struck wondering who are they for. For fans obviously, those who saw the show or those who weren’t able to make it along and as a legacy of those productions deemed worthy enough. But what about casual listeners, those simply dipping a toe into the world of musical theatre, could one honestly recommend the complexity of Sondheim and Lapine’s Sunday in the Park with George?

Perhaps not, but that’s not to say it isn’t an excellent thing. Some call this show one of Sondheim’s more accessible but I’m not convinced – its pointillist nature and time-jump format are inventive but still challenging and the inclusion of passages of dialogue – something Sondheim recordings often do – are as much of a hindrance as a help, they add to a fuller understanding of the story but also have an alienating effect – I was banned from listening to this out loud in the flat! Continue reading “CD Review: Sunday in the Park with George (2006 London Cast Recording)”

DVD Review: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

“Eminently practical and yet appropriate as always”

I’ve been experimenting with a few DVD reviews over the past weeks –theatrical ones, charity shop bargain ones and I’ve been longing to revisit film versions of several shows that I’ve seen recently. In some cases, I knew the show before seeing the film, but in others, my first contact was on celluloid (or whatever it is they use these days) and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street was one of these. I actually saw it at the BFI when it was first released, with a Q+A with Tim Burton at the end of it (which was rather cringe-worthy with every question starting with ‘I love your films…’, ‘I love your work…’, ; ‘I love your socks…’). I came out of the film having rather loved it but it was only this autumn that I finally got round to seeing it on the stage at Chichester in a sensational production which has finally announced its transfer to the Adelphi from March next year.

As to be expected, it is an overtly Burton-esque piece of work with its desaturated palette allowing the red of the blood to pop even more than usual and the focus being on psychologically disturbed character. Frequent collaborators Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter take on the lead roles of Sweeney Todd and Mrs Lovett and though neither of their voices are particularly strong, especially when up against Sondheim’s challenging score, Burton manages to make that much less of an issue than one might have thought. There’s a brooding intensity to the whole affair, a sense of drained weariness which subsequently finds strength in the vocal frailties. Alan Rickman makes a perfect Judge Turpin, his sonorous malevolence a highlight of the film especially in the ‘Pretty Women’ duet; Timothy Spall’s Turpin makes a strong impact too as does Sacha Baron Cohen’s would-be manipulator Signor Pirelli. Continue reading “DVD Review: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”

Review: A Sentimental Journey, Wilton’s Music Hall

“You’re not going into that whole load of hooey are you…”

To anyone who has read this blog for a bit, it will come as no surprise that one of my favourite venues in London is Wilton’s Music Hall: a striking historical wonder in the East End, one of the most atmospheric places in the city and one that is sadly in need of much support and funding. I’ve tried to do my part by attending everything there since I discovered it late last year (Edmond and The Waste Land, both remarkable), and the latest play to be put on there is A Sentimental Journey: The Story of Doris Day.

It does what it says on the tin, tells the story of 1950s sweetheart Doris Day, who can lay claim to being one of the most successful box-office stars of all time, and how behind the carefully cultivated wholesome image lay a life of frustration, unhappiness, debt and a whole load of marital shenanigans. The story is accompanied throughout by many of Day’s famous songs, played fabulously by a quartet on stage under the excellent musical direction of Jo Stewart and sung by all the actors. Continue reading “Review: A Sentimental Journey, Wilton’s Music Hall”