Next To Normal at the Wyndhams Theatre

Theatre enthusiasts have been calling for years for Next To Normal to hit the West End. After the Domnar production last year we got tantalisingly close but wishes were granted when the acclaimed Domnar production announced a transfer to the Wyndham’s Theatre.

Next To Normal tells of a family living with the mother, Diana’s bi-polar disorder and her delusional hallucinations and the impact it has on those around her. Her daughter Natalie goes from a genius to out clubbing and taking pills each night and husband Dan spends his time trying to hold the family together whilst bottling up his own emotions.

The book by Brian Yorkey is an incredibly strong one and the brief synopsis above barely scratches the surface of this show. The characters are nuanced and their relationships layered. It is seeing how their individual struggles impact on their relationships that are the most moving parts of the show. Whilst the show opened on Broadway in 2009 the book feels relevant and fresh especially in the current climate with a focus on mental health.

The music by Tom Kitt enhances this book and it takes the show to new emotional levels that the book would struggle to do so alone. ‘I Miss The Mountains’ is a huge emotional gut punch where as ‘I’m Alive’ veers into rock territory helping the audience further understand Diana’s hallucinations. Even lighter moments such as ‘Psychopharmacologist and I,’ whilst bring some laughter to the piece continue to drive home Diana’s struggles.

The casting of this show is divine and it feels as if I am watching a real family fall apart in front of my eyes. Cassie Levy is Diana and her moments when she descends into the deepest of depression feels hard to watch, her body language convincing me that she has developed dark circles under her eyes and a gaunt appearance in stark contrast to her moments of mania where she is filled with energy and excitement. Playing opposite her is Jamie Parker as Dan who is trying to be the rock that his family need and whilst he doesn’t always get it right he is doing it regardless of his own needs. It is this that makes Dan’s own anguish so difficult to watch and were the moments that moved me the most.

Jack Wolfe plays son Gabe and his vocal quality is wonderful in this role and his relationship with his mother, Diana is mesmerising to watch as is his interactions with the rest of his family. Eleanor Worthington-Cox plays Natalie and her descent is just as hard to watch as her mothers. Her rendition of ‘Superboy and the Invisible Girl’ broke every heart in the theatre and her confession to boyfriend Henry about her future worries was delivered with a gut wrenching feeling of truth.

Staging by director Michael Longhurst is brilliantly considered, the cast often appearing from compartments that sit above the main stage, symbolic of how the brain can try to compartmentalise to cope and the main body of the stage (set design by Chloe Lamford) set in Diana and Dan’s home, ensuring the familiarity with it just as Diana struggles with the same. The simple turntable helps add movement, ensuring that the audience sees the action from all angles.

Next to Normal hitting the West End has been worth the 15 year wait, with a hard hitting and considered book complimented perfectly by the rocky score and sublime cast this musical is not to be missed.

Next To Normal is booking at the Wydnhams Theatre until 21st September. To find out more and book tickets visit their website here.

If you like this review you might also like my interviews with the cast and creatives of Next To Normal and my reviews of Cabaret, Hadestown and Two Strangers Carry a Cake Across New York.

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