Tuesday, August 30, 2016
Eat, sleep, report, repeat: Groundhog Day @oldvictheatre
Could Groundhog Day at the Old Vic be the most fascinating piece of theatre on in the West End this summer? Based on a much-loved movie it isn't particularly groundbreaking as musical. Nor will you leave the theatre humming too many of the tunes. But a series of performances (including by the two charismatic leads Andy Karl and Carlyss Peer) take this show to another level.
Based on the Bill Murray movie, the show follows the same plot. Phil is a sarcastic weatherman forced to relive the same day over and over. He is stuck in a time loop reporting on whether a large rodent (the groundhog) can predict an early spring. So he starts making the most of the situation. He sleeps with every woman in town, he steals, he cheats death. But after craziness and depression set in he focuses his efforts on improving himself and getting the day right.
As weatherman Phil, Karl is charismatic, good looking and sexy. He is on stage most of the time and gives the piece endless energy and enthusiasm. Karl’s physique and his long career playing understudies has already been documented. Here in his star turn he looks physically fit to meet the demands of this role running about the stage and breaking into song. But he also makes the role his own. He doesn't have the dry humour of Murray but conveys a likability even when the character calls on him to be his most offensive.
Opposite him as his junior producer and eventual source of interest, Carlyss Peer is more than his match. It feels like an inspired choice of casting with the two and as if you are watching a live version of classic screwball comedy.
The cleverness of the concept is that you are watching a relationship develop over a time period that doesn't exist. Whatever future this show has, the pairing of Karl and Peer will be something to remember for some time to come.
Actors (If they are lucky enough) can spend long runs in the West End performing the same role over and over. I was half expecting a few knowing winks to the craft of repetition and perfection. But there isn't too much breaking of the fourth wall here. There is plenty of food for thought about morality and religion. It is just a pity that during the creative process someone forgot that the piece should also be damn funny too.
Catching the show both in preview and post opening night it seems that the decision was made to tone the comic elements down. It makes the piece, already overlong, a bit more like purgatory than I suspect the creators intended. What it needed was more moments of drumming groundhogs and less sad songs that stopped all the action.
Directed by Matthew Warchus, with a book by Danny Rubin (based on his film cowritten with Harold Ramis) and music and lyrics by Tim Minchin. Groundhog Day runs at the Old Vic through to 17 September.
Thanks to Waterford UK for the hospitality. They are a sponsor of the Old Vic and you can't miss their colourful glassware on display at the bars. There is a signature cocktail they have developed for each of the shows which does down nicely before the show... And again at intermission... With @johnnyfoxlondon we also had to try a few different glasses...
Photo credit: Production photos by Manuel Harlan (except for the photo at the bar taken by a drunk)