23 September 2017

Follies at National Theatre was a great production of an average musical


The attraction of Follies was obvious, it had Imelda Staunton in it. It also helped that it was written by Stephen Sondheim. The final clincher was that it was on at National Theatre which is comfortable, convenient and cheap (compared to the West End). I was keen to see it.

So were lots of other people and I had to rely on a friend's help to get tickets. She was a member of NT and was able to get tickets before they went on general sale. Thanks Julie!

Heavy demand meant little choice of seats and I was very happy to pay £41 for Stalls H2. The Olivier Theatre has an odd shape with wings on either side of the stalls and I was in one of those. Despite being almost at the edge the view was very good, the curved shape of the stage helped as did the slightly elevated position.

Follies was a simple tale of two young women and men who met at Follies and got married. Several years later they all met again at a reunion and they both revisited the early days and considered their current situations. The relationships between the four had been "it's complicated" when they met and had stayed that way.

Possibly the most successful part of the production was the way that different actors were used to represent the characters then and now with both generations often on stage at the same time as a story starting in the present moved to the past.

The stage performed wonders in keeping the flow of the story while conjuring different scenes from different times. Key to this was the way that it rotated, which also helped those of us in the wings to see the action clearly.

The Sondheim music was much as expected and the lyrics were more so. Perhaps I had not listened to them so carefully before or perhaps they were just delivered better this time but I was hit by line after line of striking prose with phrases like "I should have gone to an acting school. That seems clear" and "Constantinople has Turkish baths, And Athens that lovely debris.".

Delivering the clever lines was an excellent cast. Follies spread the singing duties widely and no one person dominating. Of course most eyes were on Imelda Staunton, and she shouldered that responsibility with ease, but the singing and acting were universally good and there were several stand-out moments that did not involve the central four characters.

The story and music of Follies were good enough, if nothing special, and everything else about the production was excellent. Follies tried hard to be a spectacle and it succeeded.

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