National Theatre, London – until 3 January 2018
It’s been 30 years since a fully staged production of Follies has been seen on a London stage so there’s been a huge buzz surrounding the current production at the National Theatre, which boasts a stellar cast. The production is largely sold out but don’t fret if you didn’t manage to snap up tickets as it is set to be broadcast to cinemas through NT Live on November 16th.
Mr Weismann’s iconic theatre is closing so to commemorate he invites all his old Follies to dance and reminisce about their time in the company. Being back in the places of their youth, many characters start being pulled back to the past and we watch as the past and present become intwined. Childhood best friends with a past, Sally and Phyllis and their husbands Buddy and Ben reopen a chapter of their lives which they all thought closed. Both couples are experiencing problems in their marriages and despite time having passed, they can’t help but relive old feelings.
Follies was originally written as a straight-through piece with no interval; whilst some productions have included intervals, the National Theatre’s doesn’t. Speaking to others about the show it seemed that people were wary of having to sit for that long without a break and whilst it is the same as watching a film, I suppose there’s more freedom and less embarrassment to have a loo break during a film. This needn’t be a worry at all though as the show flows wonderfully and really builds up momentum throughout, meaning that stepping out doesn’t cross your mind as the show flies by.
The entire cast are absolutely stellar, keeping up the energy from the get go to the end. I particularly enjoyed Di Botcher’s rendition of ‘Broadway Baby’ which is completely hilarious and gorgeously sung and Tracie Bennett’s ‘I’m Still Here’ which is gritty and powerful. The younger selves of the two main ladies, played by Zizi Strallen and Alex Young are extremely well played, with Alex really transitioning from the giddy girl into her obsessive nature with Ben.
This obsession continues with the adult Sally, played by the ever brilliant, Imelda Staunton. Sally has not really changed throughout the years and comes onto the stage just as giddy as a child when we first see her. Her fragility begins to show little by little, coming to a head in her stunning rendition of the classic, ‘Losing My Mind’. Sally’s partner in crime, Phyllis is played by the equally brilliant, Janie Dee who is strong and sassy from start to end.
Dominic Cooke’s direction creates a flow of movement and an ease throughout which is joyful to watch. Bill Dreamer’s choreography works hand in hand with is and showcases the best of the Follies era. Along with the National’s revolve, the choreography swims along and is faultless. A particular stand-out moment is the tap number ‘Who’s That Woman?’… I’m a sucker for tap and this was pulled of perfectly as the older Follies girls join their younger selves to create a thing of beauty.
Vicki Mortimer’s set design cleverly shows hints of the former glory of the grand Weismann theatre as it crumbles in current day. The costumes are stunning not only with the gorgeous glitz and glam of the Follies but with how well they show off the character of each individual lady in the current day.
Overall this is an absolutely wonderful production which has everything you could wish for in a musical. There’s glitz, glam, grit and emotion which along with a perfect cast create an absolutely wonderful show.