A Little Night Music by GEOIDS.

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As a perennial fan of all things Sondheim, I was delighted to be asked to review this production of A Little Night Music- in fact I had already purchased tickets as it happens!

Based on the Ingmar Bergman film of 1956 ‘Smiles of a Summer Night’, A Little Night Music is a tragic farce- ’whipped cream with knives’- and has the most wonderfully coherent score based on variations of the waltz time. With an orchestra of seventeen players (seventeen!) under the confident direction of MD Issie Osborne, and with a cast of accomplished singers, this was a musical treat, although for my taste the over-amplification of both singers and orchestra sounded too modern and heavy-handed to compliment what should have had the lightness of a period chamber piece.

The action takes place in a Swedish town at the turn of the Twentieth Century, during the summer of ‘perpetual sunrise’.  Designer Tina Torbey gave us a simple, authentic-looking set, with areas designed to indicate the various locations, and lighting effects to indicate internal and external scenes. This was very successful in allowing the all-important fluid transition from scene to scene, although as so much had to be played around the edges of the space, sight-lines were sometimes compromised or the action became a little remote from the audience. The Act Two dinner scene was an absolute triumph – very creative and effective. This being the opening night, the actors were not always completely in the lit areas, but I’m sure this has been resolved.

Costumes were attractive and authentic to the period, with thought given to the colour-palette for the scenes. Desiree’s Act Two gold dress was simply exquisite, as were the two dresses worn by Madame Armfeldt. Ladies’ hair-styles were not all quite to period, and the maids’ headdresses should really have been worn on the top of the head!

The Summer Night foolishly smiles three times: upon the young, the foolish and the old. Representing the young, we had a well-judged and enjoyable performance from Gwenno Jones as Frederika, thoroughly convincing us that she was fourteen years old and imbuing a tender thoughtfulness into all her words and actions that made her a key player in the story. Anne Egerman is a difficult role to portray and Freya Morgan certainly convinced us of her youth and silliness, along with a beautiful, pure soprano voice befitting the age of the character. At times her body language and teasing were a little too knowing and flirtatious and she occasionally lacked the character’s simplicity and naivety, but she related well to other characters and brought the energy and humour of the role to the fore.

Barry O’Reilly as Henrik Egerman conquered the vocal gymnastics of this role with ease. He successfully conveyed the conflicting desires of a burning lust and a commitment to the priesthood, providing many enjoyable comic moments. But oh, the disappointment that this Grade 8 cellist mimed the cello-playing in Later!

The central quartet of fools  are Desiree Armfeldt, her one-time lover Frederik Egerman, her current lover Count Carl-Magnus Malcom and his wife Charlotte Malcom.

Saratha Rajeswaran excelled as Desiree, encompassing her elegance, confidence, wit and passion in a warm and captivating performance. One always waits with baited breath for the seminal moment of Send in the Clowns in Act Two, and her poignant and heart-felt delivery certainly didn’t disappoint – goose-bumps from beginning to end. Chris Waiting as Frederik,
whilst not necessarily having the dashing looks and charm often associated with the role, gave us a very likeable and believably indecisive and bumbling lawyer, somewhat disengaged with the people in his lives until his final act of foolishness releases his true self. He worked well with Desiree and I loved the hip bath scene.

Johan Samuelsson as the Count looked absolutely splendid in the military attire. With suitable bearing and arrogance, clipped vowels and clear booming voice, he perfectly encapsulated the character of this monstrous mysogynist, with bravado in the place of brains and displayed a great singing voice too.

He was more than matched by Louise Roberts as his deeply damaged wife Charlotte.  Hers was the performance of the night, landing every comic moment and witty line with absolute precision and skill, whist always keeping us aware of her deep hurt and unconditional love. Here was a consummate actress and accomplished singer whose every glance and arch of the eyebrow captivated us.

And so to The Old. Francesca Canty was ideally cast as Madme Armfeldt, investing her with all the ascerbic wit, elegance and wisdom that the role demands and she gave a perfectly timed and mesmerising performance.

The Liebeslieder provide commentary and observation much like a Greek Chorus, with much of the more difficult harmonies being assigned to them. Polly Beaumont, Lara Comber, Amy Folden, Will Emery and Franciscus Prins all proved more than equal to the task with their beautiful voices blending so well. I particularly enjoyed Perpetual Anticipation from the ladies. Supporting servant roles of Osa, Malla, Frid and Petra were all competently played, with Tara Blackburn investing the part of Petra with suitable joie-de-vivre and allure.

One thing which did not sit well with me was the addition of male dancers to the solo numbers of Madame Armfeldt and Petra. Both of these numbers are usually a tour-de-force for the actresses playing these roles, ones in which both the vocal and acting skills should draw the audience into the narrative. The added modern choreography was not only out of keeping with the tone of the piece, it proved a real distraction. In the same way, the subtlety of the sexual undertones beneath the veneer of respectability, especially from the Liebeslieder, needed a lighter touch. Despite these personal preferences, Director Sebastian Palka drew out every bit of comedy from the piece, ensuring the complex dealings between the characters was clearly drawn, and that the emotional depths of the characters had been fully explored. Congratulations to all involved, especially for ensuring this wonderful piece of Sondheim continues to be shown.

Review by Sheila Arden

To find out more about GEOIDS visit their website.

If you like this review of A Little Night Music you might also like my review of The Pajama Game and Sweeney Todd both by GEOIDS.

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