Sunday, October 24, 2010

All Star Productions at Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre, Walthamstow

'Follies' unplugged upstairs at the Olde Rose and Crown, Walthamstow, from the enterprising All Star Productions, who have made a speciality of Sondheim shows.
Up the narrow, winding staircase, into a space smaller than the average foyer. A piano trio is playing, and the lovely young Weissman girls are dancing decorously in their scanties.
Through the window, the twinkling lights of distant Tottenham stand in for the New York skyline.
There are huge benefits in the chamber approach to this bitter-sweet musical. I loved the reduction for piano, cello, violin and, later, flute. And not a microphone in sight. It was incredible to see the characters disintegrate at close quarters, in the raw pain of “Too Many Mornings”; the ironic saccharine optimism of “Tomorrow” gained an extra impetus in this intimate setting.
Sometimes it was hard to see the whole picture; occasionally the vocal dynamic, even unamplified, was overpowering. But I'd much sooner see this show in a space with character than, say, the soul-less revival at the Royal Festival Hall.
For me, Julie Ross's Phyllis was near definitive: resigned, but resenting her 'bargain with life', her every expression, every inflection spoke volumes. And her “Could I Leave You” was impeccably crafted. April Nicholson's flirty Carlotta gave a superb “I'm Still Here”, the wind stirring the restless trees behind her, and a not inappropriate memory loss halfway through.
As Ben, the high-flier, German-born Frank Loman was charming, witty and urbane, and handled his numbers skilfully; Mark Hutchinson, a believable oil salesman but suggesting the rage within, did a brilliant “Buddie's Blues”, with the assistance of mistress Margie, and Mrs Sally Durant Plummer, whose descent into madness was depicted with real pathos by Maggie Robson, going to pieces behind her brittle, bright mask.
The specialities were enjoyable, especially perhaps Teresa Jennings' Solange and of course Ellen Vereniks' Broadway Baby.
No room for much scenery – just a couple of treads for the grand staircase – but Tim McArthur's ingenious staging did manage some impressive production numbers, including LoveLand and the mirror routine, with a great tap line [how did that sound in the Saloon Bar downstairs, I wonder ?]. The careful hair and make-up reminded us that the Follies disbanded in 1941. Shame we couldn't have managed a follow spot, but there were countless eloquent stage pictures - “Girls Upstairs”, with the older quartet watching their younger selves tripping gaily off to Tony's, and Heidi's song an ironic commentary on love. It was shared by Rachel Dobell and, as her younger shadow in a Waltz Dream of her own, Jenny-Marie Cooper.
MD Aaron Clingham led his Palm Court players effortlessly through the Sondheim numbers, pastiche, patter and power ballad.
Two dozen or so in the cast, twice that number in the house. A real shared experience – the final walk-down came all too soon.
this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews

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