Blink and you’ve already missed it- for a few fabulous shows only, Watch This lit up the National Theatre with Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. The witty, slightly heartbreaking, breathless musical inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s film Smiles of a Summer has graced Australian stages a number of times, last in 2009. It is a huge show to be put on by an independent company, but Watch This do an outstanding job on this show.
You know that moment where you or your partner are recalling a story from your past, usually a cracking great story, and they’re asking “Do you remember?” Halfway through, you realize they’re not talking about you; they’re talking about someone else, usually an ex-lover. That’s the kind of awkward amusement this show is: Set in Sweden, on a magical midsummer night, the lives of lovers, ex-lovers and mistresses become tangled and love triangles form. The adventures, or misadventures, that follow, a purely for enjoyment and amusement – it is a show full of melodrama, jokes, savage wit and excellent comic timing, but won’t leave you with a head full of questions – exactly the intention of the show.
Performances are stellar, lead by Nadine Garner as Desiree and John May as Frederik. Both voices are crisp and clear, beautifully embodying their characters emotions and quirks, with brilliant comic timing.
Standouts are also Nelson Gardner as Henrik and Grace O’Donnell-Clancy as Fredrika, for their innocence, charm and instruments played on stage, Anna Francesca Armenia for her sassy, slightly crass and hyper energetic portrayal of Petra – each member of the cast bring grace, a strong voice and a clear presence and motive on stage, a tremendous effort in casting, and direction by Nicholas Cannon.
Garner does ‘Send in the Clowns’ justice, a touching, heart wrenching moment where she gives up on her love and her dream (for the moment).
Eddie Muliamaseali’I is the man with the big voice as Carl-Magnus, jealous (but married lover) who’s bustling, boisterous presence had May scuttling from the room. His wife, conniving but caring Johanna Allen as Countess Charlotte Malcolm is a joy to watch, a true professional presence as she fights for her husband and against her more depressive, angry feelings. The Greek chorus style ensemble, which narrate and echo the sentiments, true feelings and memories of the leading cast, tie the entire show together and round out the sound with major numbers like “A Weekend in the Country” being knock out full cast numbers.
Direction by Cannon is excellent – this is a slick, sharp production, which while light on in the props and set space, packs a punch and delivers on Sonheims wit, charm and tendancy to push performers past their normal breath cycles in songs. Each witty word and syllable is enunciated and lands with great timing, and the use of silence in awkward and tense moments adds even more gravitas to the dialogue.
Costume design by Emily Collett is delightful, with colourful and bright outfits from the turn of the century, with distinct looks for each perfomer. While they are dressed well, the set and props are lacking but what Christina Logan Bell has been able to do (with what I imagine is a limited, independent theatre budget) is create a distinct air of money, grace and privilege in 1900, without being too heavy or distracting.
Accoustically, I’ve never liked the National Theatre as a venue for musicals, as it’s such a large, drafty, empty space to fill and requires a full house and a huge sound to fill, but this production does not fall victim to it’s venue. The voices soar through the space and the stripped back band still provide a rich sound in this lush soundtrack. Daniele Buatti and his band of strings and reeds hold their own against the strong cast, and create a very full orchestra sound with only six people.
There are only two truly disappointing things about this show: how short the run is, and how empty the venue felt on opening night. This is a witty, pun filled show, complete with double entendres and a borderline operatic score performed by fantastic performers. The company correctly called themselves Watch This, because they are a company you should keep an eye on, as they have established themselves as a Sondheim specialist, creating clever, strong performances that are not always seen on Victorian stages.
You’ve got one last chance to see this beautiful show – head to the Whitehorse Centre in Nunawading on the 9th and 10th of March – tickets from: http://www.whitehorsecentre.com.au
Photo credit: Jodie Hutchinson