Follies - Landor Theatre (Review)
Review by David Munro
ROBERT McWhir has achieved the impossible. He has managed to present convincingly Sondheim and Goldman’s massive musical Follies on the tiny space which is the stage of The Landor Theatre in Clapham.
He has achieved this by taking the bull by the horns and dealing with the essence of the show rather than the trappings. He gives the occasional nod to the original stage directions – there are two girls dressed in scanty costumes with large fans who appear from time to time – but first and foremost, he tells the story by direction rather than staging.
The story concerns a party given by an impresario in his theatre which is about to be demolished. He invites a collection of his old stars who, during the course of the evening, re-create their old numbers.
The main thrust of the plot deals with two couples, Ben and Phyllis and Buddy and Sally.
Sally and Phyllis were both chorus girls who were wooed by the two young men and during the course of the evening one sees how their original dreams and aspirations have tarnished with marriage. James Goldman’s book has the current characters meet their young selves who, in the case of Ben, Phyllis, Buddy and Sally, comment on and re-create their meeting and old affairs; all against a background of pastiche numbers.
All this McWhir gets across with a bare stage, a rear entrance and tables in front of the audience where the cast sit when waiting for their cues or numbers.
He has chosen his cast well. Claire Moore as Sally is a satisfactorily brash and blowsy middle class American housewife. She conveys perfectly how life in the sticks with her travelling salesman husband has destroyed the vitality we see in her younger version.
She sings beautifully and the key song for the character Losing My Mind comes over as a paean for lost youth and love as it should rather than the popular number commercial usage has made it. In Miss Moore’s hands, it becomes once again the showstopper it should be.
Her husband, Buddy, too comes brilliantly to life. Without wishing to be personal, Bryan Kennedy was the seedy, unsuccessful philandering salesman one sees haunting the bars of American hotels. He looks right and the facile charm comes across making you pity Sally and sympathise with her. He too sings well and gets the most out of his numbers. I was particularly struck with his handling of The Right Girl which he made an impressive solo.
Phyllis and Ben made a perfect contrast to Sally and Buddy. Leo Andrew was the epitome of the brash, successful man and Sarah Payne of the “ladies who lunch”.
I do, however, question whether the director was wise to retain their “big” numbers Lucie and Jessie and Live, Love, Laugh both of which are weak (Sondheim replaced both of them in later versions of the show) and very difficult to get over as I’m afraid was proved last night.
This was a pity as up to then they had both performed superbly and Miss Payne, in particular, achieved the full effect of Could I Leave You? her satirical overview of their marriage.
Apart from the Buddy, Sally, Ben, Phyllis story, the remainder of the evening is made up of the elderly stars remembering or re-creating their numbers which work just as effectively (if not in some cases better) in The Landor than they did at the Shaftesbury Theatre, where the show had its West End debut.
Adele Anderson (from Fascinating Aida) made the rather clichéd I’m Still Here sparkle, as did Rachel Izon with Broadway Baby.
The rest of the less well-known numbers were well performed by Helen Watson, Paul Tate, Anne Smith and Roni Page, while Robbie O’ Reilly (the choreographer) made an effective ensemble number out of Who’s That Woman, making one wonder why it was ever necessary to stage it with mirrors.
Follies has never been really successful despite Sondheim’s re-working of it although it contains some of his most commercial numbers.
Seeing it stripped to its bare bones, so to speak, one can see its flaws but nonetheless in this version it works well and Mr McWhir and his crew and cast are to be congratulated for their enterprise which, in my view, has paid off handsomely.
Follies by James Goldman
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Director – Robert McWhir
Choreographer – Robert O’Reilly
Costume Design – Stephen Du Toit & Nina Morley
Lighting – Richard Lambert
Cinematography – Bread and Butter Films
CAST: Claire Moore; Sarah Payne; Bryan Kennedy; Leo Andrew; Nova Skipp; Claire Winsper; Dominic Brewer; Callum McIntosh; Brian Jackson; Ian Dring; Helen Watson; Paul Tate; Anne Smith; Rachel Izen; Carol Ball; David Bradshawe; Adele Anderson; Roni Page; Francesca Sibthorp; Caroline Newman; Christine Holman; Hope McNamara; Peter Scrivens; Jonathan Elo; Chris Carswell; Bobbie O’Reilly; Georgie Fellows; Christine Holman; Hope McNamara.
Landor Theatre, 70 Landor Road, London, SW9 9PH.
From Tuesday, September 19 to Saturday, October 14, 2006.
Ticket prices £15 – £12 concessions
Box Office 020 7737 7276