Olivier, National Theatre, London
After its sold out run in 2017, Follies is back in true glamorous style as it follows a group of dancers reminiscing and reliving their youth. Mr Weismann’s iconic theatre is being turned into a car park, so he’s invited his past Follies dancers back to say one last farewell to the space. The walls of the theatre bring back memories and as we see childhood friends Phyllis and Sally reopen chapters they thought were closed, we are taken on a journey where past and present collide.
Dominic Cooke has once again directed a visceral and intense production. At two hours 15 minutes with no interval, the piece steadily flows and retains ferocity throughout. Vicki Mortimer’s set and costumes are a spectacle in themselves; the crumbling theatre is periodically brought back to life by a subtle change and cleverly used to signify mental changes and journeys as well as the physical flashbacks. The costumes are elaborate and unique to each girl, with the delicate smatterings of jewels and sparkles, shining and flowing as they move around the stage.
Bill Deamer’s choreography brings the best of the Follies era to life as the girls move around the stage gracefully, as if every movement is strategically planned for attention. Of course, the stand out choreographic moment is ‘Who’s That Woman’ where the young and old combine to create a magical tap routine.
In terms of cast, you can’t get much better than this one. Tracie Bennett’s ‘I’m Still Here’ is a chill inducing, nuanced filled performance; whilst Claire Moore is hilarious throughout, no more so than in her gloriously sung, ‘Broadway Baby’. Fellow The Girls alum, Joanna Riding is utterly outstanding as Sally. The transition from excitable girl, to fragile woman is perfectly performed, with ‘Losing My Mind’ providing a complete masterclass is acting through song and maintaining vocal technique even in moments of peak emotional earnestness. This intensity is mirrored by Gemma Sutton as Young Sally who is perfectly cast, alongside Christine Tucker as Young Phyllis, to show how we change, and how we remain the same.
Janie Dee is striking as Phyllis, whilst husbands, Buddy and Ben have great characterisation and development thanks to Peter Forbes and Alexander Hanson.
Whilst Follies is an outstanding piece of theatre, personally I feel a little far removed from the story; most likely because I lack the life experiences to relate on an emotional level. However, this is one of the most glitzy shows around, with one of Sondheim’s finest scores and it’s worth a visit to see how theatre should be done.
photo credit: Johann Persson