Theatre and perspiration: Roadshow

The tennis at Wimbledon at the moment is getting really exciting, so it was great when walking into the Menier Chocolate Factory to see Stephen Sondheim's Roadshow that the seats were arranged like you were at Wimbledon - comfortable but a bit hot and forcing you to turn your head to see the action as it moved across court the stage.

Staging (and heat) aside, this is an interesting piece of theatre about two brothers who have various scams and schemes and in the process end up building a town in Florida, writing a screenplay (or at least being in the room when it was written), and developing an architectural style that (for better or worse) persists to this day. It is all interesting enough to have you wanting to locate the source material, or at least looking up the history of Boca Raton on the internet.

Amongst the twentieth century history lesson is a show that is part drama, part comedy and part music. Even though it has Sondheim's name to it, it doesn't feel like a musical, even if there are a few numbers with mild razzle dazzle. The mix of realism and showbiz sometimes proves to be a bit jarring and comes as a surprise to the audience, judging by surprised faces I saw on the audience sitting opposite.

I remember Sondheim at a National Theatre talk in 2004 mentioning he planned to take another look at the show (then called Bounce) to see if it could work better. It was an interesting discussion in the context of how he has made changes to improve shows and the torturous process of it all. The opening is snappier and things move at a pace. But perhaps maybe some diversions, like the brothers often took, might not have been such a bad thing after all...

The cast are excellent and deliver a lively set of performances. While I had hoped for more banter between the Mizner brothers (played by David Bedella and Michael Jibson) things move at such a pace that there isn't much time to stop... Even for laughs... Jon Robyns as Hollis, was a particular highlight. He has a great voice (he has a solo album coming out shortly) and gets some of the best songs...

It runs through to September but is selling out quickly... It helps to brush up on the history of the characters before going as I felt there is an assumption that you know (and possibly care) about these two guys already... Although a show about property booms, scams, homosexuals and wasted talent surely cannot be too much of a stretch for Londoners...

Oh and dress cooly if its a heatwave... Even the bar was warm and sticky which didn't bode well for lingering around... Fortunately the show only runs 95 minutes without and interval. It has just started previews and the views of the hot and bothered including @Johnnyfox are boo'd below...

First impressions: Road Show (mp3)

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