Theatre review - A Little Night Music, The Storyhouse, Chester
PUBLISHED: 12:18 22 May 2018
Copyright Mark Carline (c) 2015
Passion and regret mix together in an engaging and gently comedic musical. Marie Easom writes.
This lush Stephen Sondheim musical, based on a book by Hugh Wheeler, is a tale of tangled, mismatched relationships, lust, love, regret and reconciliation.
Lawyer Frederik Egerman has married the immature teenage virgin, Anne, who loves him in her own way but resists all his attempts to consummate their marriage. His conflicted, intense son Henrik aches with unexpressed love for his stepmother, whereas Frederik still carries a secret torch for his old love Desiree Armfeldt, a beautiful actress who enjoys as many men as she does roles. Her latest is Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm, whose cuckolded wife Charlotte knows Anne Egerman through her sister, and sees an opportunity to regain her husband’s attention through flirting with Frederik. Meanwhile, Desiree chooses to stay on tour, leaving her daughter Fredrika at home with her mother. Sounds confusing? I certainly expected it to be, and was extremely pleased that it was anything but.
The set is pared down, sleek and modern, with a muted background used with clever lighting to great effect, silhouetting the different groups of actors on stage. The wonderful ‘every one’s a good one’ seating at Storyhouse hugs the stage on three sides. The actors are accompanied by an eight-piece orchestra, plus a quartet of singers. The musical starts with the pianist providing a single note as an introduction for the quartet’s stirring piece, from their positions in different parts of the theatre.
This was followed by the key players joining them on stage and commencing a graceful, tightly choreographed waltz, yet one in which no-one seems quite happy with their partner, even when they swap. The quartet accompanies the key players throughout the musical, both as vocal support and through positioning on stage in their own unique dance to emphasise interactions between characters, each one designed to build tension and understanding of the complexity of feelings.
As the musical progresses, new aspects to each relationship are revealed, with things coming to a head at the party thrown by Desiree’s mother where Henrik finally snaps and attempts suicide, Anne realises his feelings for her, the relationship between Frederik and Fredrika becomes evident and each person finds their true partner. The musical is topped and tailed by a tender scene between Fredrika and her grandmother, contemplating how the night smiles three times.
There were some marvellous songs in the musical, including ‘Now’ from the sexually thwarted Frederik, ‘Soon’ from his teenage wife, and ‘Later’ from his increasingly frustrated son Henrik, who is ignored and ridiculed by everyone, all blended together yet clear and equally urgent. A surprise favourite of mine was Richard Lounds’ (Hendrik) solo cello piece during ‘Later’: initially, I thought someone from the orchestra would play, but no - Lounds gave an amusing, passionate and furious performance which was just perfect.
The musical includes the beautiful ‘Send in the Clowns’, and even if Serena Evans (Desiree) was not the strongest vocalist of the group, she hit exactly the right pathos and I thought gave a deeply moving performance of the song. A further favourite was Frederik and Count Carl-Magnus’ great comic timing while sparring verbally over their mutual lust for Desiree in ‘It Would Have Been Wonderful’ (if she wasn’t so wonderful). I also enjoyed the wistful ‘The Miller’s Son’ sung by the maid Petra (Leigh Quinn), and the tongue-in-check verse that began with ‘I will marry the Prince of Wales’ as a nod to the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle earlier that day.
This is a long one – 2 hours 50 with an interval – though I never felt there were aspects that could, and should, have been cropped. The entire musical is tightly directed and every actor was strong and well cast.
A Little Night Music runs at The Storyhouse Chester until 8 July 2018.