Writers : Stephen Sondheim and George Furth
Director: Charlotte Conquest
Reviewer: Steve Turner
Stephen Sondheim’s and George Furth’s 1981 musical about the fracturing of friendships and relationships has a somewhat unusual way of delivering its narrative. The action runs backwards in time, each scene set before the previous one, so instead of watching as things disintegrate, we see them at their nadir and are taken back in time observing as youthful optimism gives way to adult greed and weakness. With the action unfolding in this way the audience does at least get happier as the show progresses, this happiness is always going to be tinged with sadness though as the outcome is not a happy one.
The surprise about this show is the fact that it was a flop when originally performed back in 1981, closing after only a couple of weeks of post preview performances. Tonight’s staging gives no hint of this failure though as sharp dialogue, witty lyrics and some strident choruses all come together beautifully under the watchful eye of director Charlotte Conquest.
The story itself reflects upon the relationship between three old friends: Franklin Shepard, a successful movie producer; his former lyricist and co-writer Charley Kringas and Mary Flynn a writer with a bestseller to her name but now an alcoholic. The irony of the title of the show is reflected in the way that we see that far from rolling merrily along, these three drift further apart in a less than merry way. For the show to succeed the three central characters and their friendship need to be believable and engaging and with their performances they certainly achieve that
Ana Richardson as Mary is quite outstanding. As the sardonic alcoholic she delivers some cutting remarks whilst all around are fawning over Franklin, her unrequited love for him plain to see. Her singing is impressive throughout, full of emotion and seemingly delivered from the heart in an American accent that never wavers.
Lee Thomas as Franklin gives a convincing portrayal of a slightly weak-willed man, always trying to do the right thing for his friends but never quite succeeding. Seduced by the fame and fortune, and also by his leading ladies, he is clearly tormented by the fact that his material success has not brought him the happiness he craves, and yet he can’t bring himself to give it up.
Central to his early success was his partnership with Charley Kringas, who stays true to his roots eventually seeing his play succeed on Broadway. To get to this point however he goes through a nervous breakdown and estrangement from Franklin on the way. Sensitively played by Elliott Griffiths he forms an essential part of the central triumvirate.
The supporting cast is spot on with Anna Twaits on good form as the manipulative, much married and rather unlikeable Gussie, and Adam Linstead convincing as Joe her ex-husband and producer of Franklin’s first Broadway hit, the brash, confident side revealed later in the play after we first see him as desperate and destitute.
Charlotte Conquest’s direction keeps things moving at a good pace, however, there are times during the first act where things are a little slow and it feels somewhat stretched. This is all forgotten in the second act though as there is a more upbeat feel owing to the more optimistic outlook of the characters.
Overall a very entertaining presentation of a slightly less well known Sondheim work, well sung and acted and with some excellent musical backing directed by Alex Parker.
Runs to 19 May 2018 | Image: Contributed