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Posted by : TimothyRamsden on Jan 22, 2008 - 02:14 PM Archive

music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim book by George Furth.

Watermill Theatre To 8 March 2008.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm except 8 March at 1.30pm & 6.30pm
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.

TICKETS: 01635 46044.
Review: Timo0thy Ramsden 21 January,.

Music as scenery you really can hum.

If Harold Pinter wrote a musical, might it resemble this 1981 musical, based on George S Kaufman and Moss Hart’s 1934 play, but premiered only three years after Pinter’s Betrayal?

They share a plot that jump-cuts backwards from the end of a soured affair to its hopeful beginnings. Like Pinter, book writer George Furth shows how strong exposition in reverse can be.

Merrily does for Broadway’s musical world what Cyril Connolly had for literature in his book Enemies of Promise, displaying the temptations of domesticity and commercial success as barriers to artistic development. (Composer Franklin Shepard’s patronisingly rebuked for not being tuneful, the frequent objection to Sondheim’s scores - though this one's memorably hummable.)

As in his Amadeus at Wilton’s, director John Doyle takes his actor-musician staging close to abstraction, the subject of composition visualised by the instrumental onstage collective. The Watermill’s intimate space is dominated by a grand piano, and actor Sam Kenyon takes frequent turns at the keyboard, while Doyle has actors unspooling tape after each scene, a vivid action though making the opposite point to the dramatic structure.

This abstraction means a loss of realistic detail, reducing several characters to ciphers, but it certainly focuses central character relations. The invention of answerphones economically shows how short-sighted Broadway’s mighty can be, while power-games are played out in the relationship between producer Joe and secretary/wife Gussie.

Elizabeth Marsh’s Mary shows a disgust towards the 1980 Franklin that gains context as her younger self tries to protect him from corrosive self-seeker Gussie, before emerging fully-illuminated by contrast with her first idealistic rooftop meeting with Frank.

As Frank proceeds through wives, homemaker Beth (Joanna Hickman moving from eagerness to disappointment), predatory vamp Gussie (Rebecca Jackson uncoiled seductively across the piano-lid) and Mary, with a new starlet in prospect, the failed relationships interact with his fading ideals and the moral insistence of writing-partner Charley (Thomas Padden, determinedly downmarket in dress and upbeat in temper).

Doyle has mounted several fine musical productions at the Watermill. But there’s to be no going back for him. This is his last there – enjoy it while you can.

Meg: Emma Correlle.
Beth: Joanna Hickman.
Gussie: Rebecca Jackson.
Frank: Sam Kenyon.
KT: Michelle Long.
Ru: Michael Lovatt.
Mary: Elizabeth Marsh.
Charley: Thomas Padden.
Tyler: Matthew Rutherford.
Jerome: Simon Tuck.
Scotty: Steve Watts.
Joe: Johnson Willis.

Director: John Doyle.
Designer: Liz Ascroft.
Lighting: Tim Mitchell.
Sound: Gary Dixon.
Musical Arranger/Musical Supervisor: Catherine Jayes.

Sponsor: Thomas Eggar.
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