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Posts Tagged ‘James Goldman’

It’s thirty years since I saw a large-scale production of this show – it’s first, and only, West End outing – though there were three others in quick succession between 2002 and 2010 – a semi-staged version at the Royal Festival Hall, a delightful fringe production at the Landor and another in Walthamstow during Sondheim’s 80th celebrations. Along with A Little Night Music, it’s never been my favourite Sondheim show, though it contains some of his best songs, but just five days after a stunning revival of that other show in Newbury, here we are at the National being blown away by Dominic Cooke’s sensational production, taking us back to the original Broadway version without interval. Now, where did I put my superlatives thesaurus……

It’s a reunion at the New York theatre where the Weismann Follies were between the wars. It’s about to be demolished and the girls of the 30’s and 40’s have been invited back one last time. Nostalgia gives way to regret for lost love and lost opportunities, as the main characters Buddy & Sally and Ben & Phyllis reminisce. There have been follies in their lives as well as Follies in their careers, and we learn how their relationships were formed and how they progressed. All four have the ‘ghosts’ of their former selves onstage, as do ten of the other stars from the past. Interwoven with their story, and ‘character songs’ as Sondheim calls them, we have routines and turns reenacted and a pastiche called Loveland within which all four leads sing of their individual follies.

Imelda Staunton follows her Mrs Lovett, Rose and Martha with another stupendous performance as Sally. It’s wonderful to see Philip Quast again, on fine form too as Ben, and Janine Dee is a terrific acid-tonged Phyllis, a particularly fine dancer as it turns out. Peter Forbes is less of a musicals regular, but he makes a great Buddy. Another piece of surprising but inspired casting is Di Botcher as Hattie, delivering Broadway Baby as if she was. Tracie Bennett takes I’m Still Here hostage with a particularly ballsy rendition, and the duet between opera singers Josephine Barstow and Alison Langer as older and younger Heidi is another stand-out moment in a show full of them. Dawn Hope’s Stella gamely leads the veterans in a thrilling tap dancing number with their former selves. The National is saved from prosecution by the musicals police by casting a Strallen, Zizzi, as Young Phyllis. This teally is a stunner of a cast.

Dominic Cooke isn’t known for musicals, but teamed with choreographer Bill Deamer, he’s done a great job, an elegant staging which is brash when it needs to be, at other times restrained and often very moving. Vicki Mortimer has created an atmospheric set and fantastic costumes. The unbroken 130 minutes was packed full of showstoppers and by the time we got to Loveland, I was overwhelmed and deeply moved. I think my previous, less enthusiastic reaction is down to timing. I was too young and too new to Sondheim and wasn’t really ready for this show – until now.

To the 37 performers and 21 musicians on stage, and the 200 production staff, and of course Messrs Sondheim & Goldman, it was worth every second of your time and effort. Unforgettable.

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There’s no point in having two national treasures, five fine young (recently graduated) actors and an elegant period set if your material is dull….and I mean dull.

Set in 1183 at the court of Henry II and Eleanor, James Goldman’s play takes an interesting slice of history, adds in some anachronistic modern dialogue (which doesn’t offend and sometimes raises a smile) and somehow makes it all deeply uninteresting. Eleanor has offended Henry so she’s imprisoned (today, we call it ‘under house arrest’) whilst his three sons are vying for the succession. The young King of France gets involved; apparently he’s a former lover of son Richard – can’t remember that in the history books! The favours of the queen (Eleanor!) and both kings change as they are courted and secrets are revealed, many whilst other characters are behind the curtains!

It’s all very clunky and hardly engages at all. You’re far more interested in the set and the performances than the play and spend quite a bit of the time wondering why on earth anyone thought it was worthy of revival. Of course, if I was cynical, I’d say ‘star casting means money’. Well, surely Trevor Nunn, Robert Lindsay and Joanna Lumley wouldn’t be part of that?  Anyway, star casting no longer means money; they’re papering the house mercilessly (I didn’t pay).

Though I missed The Tempest, this has been a disappointing quartet from Nunn at the Theatre Royal Haymarket this year. Other than Flare Path, poor choices leading to mediocrity. I see they’re transferring One Man, Two Guvnors here – that should pay off the overdraft.

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