Stephen Sondheim’s Follies at the National Theatre:
It is not often that a 37 strong company, a 21-piece orchestra, with a starry cast and an array of fabulous parts for both the young and old, in particular, some fine female roles, brings the house down, but Dominic Cooke’s magnificent revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies does exactly that.
The National Theatre’s new version returns to the original book written by James Goldman and the structure of the 1971 original, creating a show that dazzles in of the style of the Broadway glamour it depicts.
The story begins when a group of middle age woman, who once were the beguiling Weismann Follies girls, come together for a reunion with husbands in tow to relive their days of glitz and glamour at the old theatre where they spent their former years, bringing with them their failing marriages and longings of lost youth versus the bitterness of age.
The stoic Sally, played to perfection and with such a painful honestly by Imelda Staunton, is married to Buddy- Peter Forbes who makes a suitably smarmy salesman, whose love for Sally is painfully unrequited. The glamorous Phyllis in whom Janie Dee gives such magnificent performance, and gives all the young a run for their money, has suffered the insecurities of being married to suave, selfish womanizer Ben, excellently portrayed by Philip Quast. Sally has held a torch for Ben since their brief fling in the Wesiman days, whilst bearing Buddy’s extra marital affairs when he has been on the road, and desperately hopes that now is her chance to rekindle her yearnings for Ben. Ben plays everyone off against each other until we witness his final, feckless downfall and the bare truth of his failures and dissatisfactions.
Follies in all its dazzle and wit, is a remarkably poignant tale of irreclaimable youth and it cleverly holds a mirror up to the past with a multitude of dual roles which enables the characters to seamlessly slip from the past to present and witness their younger selves, coming to terms with their broken dreams and the harsh realities of the present.
Sondheim’s music is sensational and the large pitch perfect orchestra gives it such aplomb. There are a series of memorable solos from many a talented artist as well as the thrill of some fabulous ensemble numbers: the moving ‘Losing My Mind’ sung with heart rendering emotion by Imelda Staunton, Janie Dee’s sings Phyllis’s bid for freedom in ‘Could I leave you?’ Tracie Bennett’s ‘I’m Still Here’, feisty Di Botcher’s, ‘Broadway Baby’ and a fine soprano from Josephine Barstow with ‘One Last Kiss’, not forgetting ‘The Story of Lucy and Jessie’ and I have to admit that I’m still singing ‘Beautiful Girls’!
The ensemble costumes are remarkably inventive and flamboyant, feathers and all, and the Bill Deamer’s choreography was superbly pitched and delivered by a very strong and talented cast, which the audience never tired of applauding.
I have no doubt that Follies will be a staggering success; I for one enjoyed a thoroughly wonderful evening of glamorous, ballsy, musical theatre at its best.
At the National’s Olivier Theatre, London, until 3 January. Box office: 020-7452 3000. Broadcast on 16 November as part of NT Live.