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saints and sinners of the stage and screen

A Little Night Music
Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre
9th October 2015

★★★★☆

The ensemble in A Little Night Music

Photography © David Ovenden

If A Little Night Music teaches us just one thing, it's that bagging a trophy wife is not all it's cracked up to be. Frederik Egerman (Alexander McMorran) may have persuaded the young, beautiful and incredibly ditzy Anne Egerman (Maria Coyne) to get hitched to him, but he's had far less luck in convincing her to share his bed. When a frustrated Frederik runs into old flame, actress Desiree Armfeldt (Sarah Waddell), a solution presents itself. Putting the holy vows and legal bond of matrimony to one side, there's just one snag. Desiree is already having an affair with Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm (Samuel Baker) and the trigger-happy count isn't at all pleased that the woman he's cheating on his spouse with is cheating on him with someone else's spouse. Throw Carl-Magnus's long-suffering wife, Countess Charlotte Malcolm (Jamie Birkett) into the mix and just for good measure, Fredrik's aspiring theologist son Henrik Egerman (Joshua Considine) who has a wildly inappropriate crush on his new stepmum. The result? Chaos and a thoroughly entertaining musical.

Hugh Wheeler's book is packed full of love, lust and social climbing, together with plenty of humour. It does take admittedly a while for the writing to get into its stride, and that's the only real issue with this production. However, when it does pick up the pace, you forget it ever had a tame beginning and are entertained by the wonderfully farcical romp which starts to build momentum towards the end of act one and gets even more ridiculous in act two. Stephen Sondheim's music and lyrics include some iconic numbers like Send In The Clowns. (You know, the sort of songs you know already, but don't know why. Music which is so powerful it's found itself woven into popular culture and made famous in its own right.) Although set in early 20th-century Sweden, the women in A Little Night Music are for the most part outwardly strong and fiery with big personalities, making this a musical which modern audiences will quite comfortably still enjoy.

A Little Night Music opens with an overture sung by Mr Lindquist (Tim Southgate), Mrs Nordstrom (Lily de-la-Haye), Mr Erlanson (Stewart Briggs), Mrs Segstrom (Sarah Dearlove) and Mrs Anderssen (Kim Bergkvist). Despite these characters being seemingly important enough to have their own names, and de-la-Haye in particular a singer with gloriously powerful and crisp vocals, this quintet never actually develop their own storyline. Although they help give a certain coherency to the action with songs such as The Glamorous Life and A Weekend In The Country, it's hard to shake the feeling that they're underused. What you rapidly come to appreciate is if this is the level of talent invested in the chorus, the rest of the cast must be (and indeed are) quite special.

The ensemble in A Little Night Music

Photography © David Ovenden

Whilst all of the performers are a joy to watch, it's Birkett who absolutely steals the show. Her Countess is full of sarcasm, black humour and plenty of throw away comments and raised eyebrows. With heavier makeup than most and a flair for the dramatic, Charlotte seems almost something of a two-dimensional panto character on the surface. Her husband forces her into the role of a villain, but actually, when she goes to visit Anne, it becomes apparent she isn't trying to create trouble - she feels unable to disobey her husband. He may be a lying, cheating jerk, but he's her lying, cheating jerk and this attachment to someone who blatantly isn't worth her, makes her seem so vulnerable, so human and relatable. There's a real bleakness in many of her quips and director Tim McArthur manages to draw this out without losing any of the comedy. It's a well-balanced delivery.

Waddell's Desiree is also worth mentioning. She's so much of a glamourpuss that it's hard to recall she ever played Jack's chavvy mother in the magnificent Into The Woods. Like Charlotte, Desiree initially comes across as invincible then shows us as a softer side as we spend more time with her. When Frederik reveals his hand in the second act, Waddell's emotional rendition of Send In The Clowns is heart-wrenching to watch.

Nik Corrall's set is simple to the point that it's almost too bare, however with a cast of 16, the ensemble frequently form part of the stage dressing. Simon Fielding's choreography is fine, however not particularly memorable. It very much felt like the footwork was the focus in Face The Music, however this time, the company have made it all about the band. Musical director Aaron Clingham does exactly what you expect him to do by now - he tinkles those ivories skilfully, whilst expertly leading Ruth Whybrow on flute and clarinet, Catriona Cooper on viola and Maria Rodriguez Reina on cello. Clingham's obvious love for his craft is what always elevates his and his orchestra's performance.

While it's fair to say that this isn't my all-time favourite Sondheim, and McArthur is clearly prevented from tightening the introduction by the licence, A Little Night Music is nonetheless good fun and executed brilliantly by a wonderfully talented company. Time for a little visit to Walthamstow - you'll thank me for it.

A Little Night Music ran from 6th to 31st October 2015 at Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Walthamstow Central (Victoria)



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