Wednesday, December 03, 2008
Theatre: A Little Night Music
I was a bit worried about seeing A Little Night Music on Sunday. Well, the last time I went to see a Trevor Nunn show it all ended in disaster (although I ended up with seats with lots of space around me). This time at least I was certain that the material he had to work with was much better. But still, I was a little bit worried. It was less to do with the show and more to do with the company I was with. After having lunch with the Whingers, John and a few others, our party of ten to see it was in a very silly mood.
The two bottles of non-cheap red wine consumed over lunch may have had something to do with it. There was so much banter that anything was a target and everything was hilarious. The production team sat in the row in front of us, taking notes using pens and little notepads looking like they were waiters. John suggested we ask Trevor to take our order for a couple of lattes for the interval. Yes, it was set to be a silly afternoon.
Fortunately all the banter stopped when the lights went up. Well the lights went up in the row in front of us anyway. The note taking continued under the glow of pen lights and mobile phones. It took a while for the stage lights to go up. I think they did not go up until about the third number and it was hard to make out who anybody was until then. Still there was so much to enjoy about this show; the excellent cast, the brisk pacing and the great story.
I had not seen a production of A Little Night Music before but was familiar with the score. I also knew the film Smiles Of A Summer Night on which the musical is loosely based upon. Smiles Of A Summer Night is an Ingmar Bergman film, but is not a bleak film about death (like many of his films) but a very funny comedy. The book and score of A Little Night Music is just as witty and incisive. So it was great to see this production bring out the fact that at its heart this show is a sexy comedy.
There are some wonderful singers in this cast and they all kept the show real while managing the right balance of laughs and pathos. Some in our party had reservations about Maureen Lipmann playing Mme Armfeldt but I figured the role called for a touch of channelling Margaret Thatcher with a bit of Miss Havisham. But particular credit has to go to Hannah Waddingham in the central role of Desiree. Judi Dench played it in the last London production, but by giving this role to Waddingham (who is in her early thirties and looks stunning even eating a bag of crisps), the show makes a lot more sense and gives added power to the story. It was also nice to see Jessie Buckley, runner up in the TV show I'd Do Anything to find the next Nancy for the upcoming West End revival of Oliver! playing the role of the young virgin wife Anne as well.
All told this show looked and sounded fantastic. I would challenge anyone not to enjoy the closing number of Act 1, "A Weekend In The Country". It is helped by the small confines of the Chocolate Factory and the extra intimacy it provides. You know you are seeing the real thing as you are so close to the performers as they deftly handle very tricky music. The production design was another added bonus. A real treat and one not to miss. Press night was 3 December and it will run until March at the Chocolate Factory. Beg, borrow or steal (if the Sondheimistas snatch them all up) to get a ticket while the nights are long... It is worth it...