Tag Archives: Michael Harrison




Wyndham’s Theatre

OKLAHOMA! at Wyndham’s Theatre



“The diverse cast of this Oklahoma! are a powerhouse of talents that make you rethink every line of Hammerstein’s lyrics”


Daniel Fish’s vividly reimagined Oklahoma!, now playing at Wyndham’s Theatre, is a many layered, complex, and somewhat melancholy take on Rodgers and Hammerstein’s well loved classic. The musical has been recreated in ways that make this Oklahoma! both funny and touching. But it is a radical rethink of the sunny American optimism that we commonly associate with musicals like Oklahoma! Fish’s approach is refreshing. It’s also an authentic nod to the problematic heart that exists at the core of every Rodgers and Hammerstein musical.

The plot of Oklahoma! is a conventional love story. The main characters, Laurey and Curly, are negotiating the details of their eventual partnership. It seems to revolve around whether Curly will ask Laurey to the box social and whether he can take her there in appropriate style. Since Curly is a cowhand with little to show except a cheerful disposition, Laurey doubts his ability to make good on his promises. His rival Jud sees an opportunity to win Laurey for himself, which throws Laurey into a spin of indecision. The main plot is echoed by a comic subplot concerning a girl named Ado Annie, who changes her mind about her suitors the moment one leaves the room, and another enters. What turns the story of Oklahoma! into a much loved classic is the genius of Richard Rodgers’ music, and Oscar Hammerstein’s lyrics. Songs like Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’, I’m a Girl That Just Can’t Say No, and the title song Oklahoma! have a freshness and originality that turn this homespun tale into an anthem celebrating American inventiveness and a can-do attitude that carried the United States out of the Great Depression, and through the Second World War.

Daniel Fish’s Oklahoma! is many miles from the home imagined by Rodgers and Hammerstein in the early 1940s. Their Oklahoma! was inspired by Lynn Riggs’ play Green Grow The Lilacs, which looked back to a more troubled era in American history, where western homesteads were being established, often at the point of a gun. Lael Jellinek and Grace Laubacher’s set is a bright sun drenched space that looks like the setting for a church social, complete with gun racks on the walls, and cheap and cheerful tinsel fringes hanging from above. This version of Oklahoma! is one of tense interiors. The outdoors exists in a space we cannot really appreciate, unless it is through Scott Zielinski’s lighting, which perfectly captures the unyielding brightness of the Oklahoma plains. With such a visual reminder of conflict established right at the beginning, we’re ready for the messier battles that erupt as Laurey has to choose between two very different suitors.

The genius of this production is that Fish is not afraid to ditch the sunny optimism for uncertain, conflicted characters. They know farming in this unforgiving landscape is going to be a struggle, full of compromises with people with unknown histories, and no guarantees of success. The diverse cast of this Oklahoma! are a powerhouse of talents that make you rethink every line of Hammerstein’s lyrics. Arthur Darvill’s Curly is the portrayal of a man with a complicated future, not a past. As we find out. Darvill’s musical talents are a revelation, and give us a reason to root for his Curly. Anoushka Lucas’ Laurey has a voice that transforms the part, as does Georgina Onuorah, playing Ado Annie. Musically, the cast doesn’t put a foot wrong. Stavros Demetraki as Ali Hakim and Liza Sadovy provide the perfect comic foils to all this conflict. And at the heart of the conflict is a truly memorable Jud, played by Patrick Vaill. Vaill radiates a brooding and tragic melancholy throughout, foreshadowing the messy outcome of Curly and Laurey’s wedding day.

Daniel Kluger’s musical rethink of Rodgers’ score is likewise a revelation. Instead of a big Broadway orchestra, we have a small group of musicians playing instruments that are appropri-ate for a “box social.” The interaction between singers and musicians bring everyone together in a lively exchange that makes the music sound modern and contemporary. If the intervention of electric guitars are key moments in the drama are harsh and uncompromising, it’s appropriate to Fish’s multifaceted reinterpretation of Oklahoma! The musicians manage their musical transitions with courage and commitment, even through the Dream Ballet, which again, is a radical rethink of Agnes de Mille’s choreography. John Heginbotham’s choreography sketches details, and sets a powerful mood, but it’s the music and singing that claims the attention.

There are some weak spots in this Oklahoma! The pace is very slow at times, and it can feel as though the audience is present at a drama, rather than a musical. There are scenes where the audience is plunged into darkness. It seems an unnecessary intensification of the tensions already present on stage. But when all is said and done, this production of Oklahoma! raises good questions about American history, and its tendency to mythologize a past that was violent and complicated. It’s all there in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s original production, and Daniel Fish knows how to draw our attention to these subtle clues. For that reason, and for the wonderful performances, do not miss this production of Oklahoma!


Reviewed on 28th February 2023

by Dominica Plummer

Photography by Marc Brenner



Previously reviewed at this venue:


Life of Pi | ★★★★★ | November 2021


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Fiddler on the Roof (Cast Change)

Playhouse Theatre

Fiddler on the Roof (Cast Change)

Fiddler on the Roof (Cast Change)

Playhouse Theatre

Reviewed – 22nd June 2019



Friedman’s formidable presence is the perfect complement to Tevye; one that no Matchmaker could cap.”


Almost before Trevor Nunn’s “Fiddler on the Roof” opened last December at the Menier Chocolate Factory, it had ‘West End Transfer’ stamped all over it. Three months on from its relocation to the Playhouse Theatre it is still a richly deserved hot ticket. Settling into the larger space, the show has thankfully lost none of the intimacy and passion: there is always the fear of over-projection, but the subtlety and attention to detail of this production is beautifully intact, gently immersing the audience into the small Russian village of Anatevka in 1905.

Designer Robert Jones’ set – a ramshackle Jewish shtetl – spills out into the auditorium; the smokey darkness of the crooked wooden buildings backed by a foreboding bank of bare woodland, yet overlain with folk-tale lanterns and Tim Lutkin’s time-shifting lighting that conjures both the chilly light of an uncertain dawn with heart-warming twilight. A true reflection of the town folk’s stoicism in the face of their impending resettlement. Trevor Nunn has conjured up the perfect mix of mockery and menace in this atmospheric revival.

Based on the stories of one of the most famous and beloved of all Jewish writers; Sholem Aleichem, the story centres on Tevye, a poor Jewish dairyman, forever questioning ‘Tradition’, and the mysterious ways in which God moves. A patriarchal figure, his refusal to bend to the changing times is slowly eroded by the strong-willed actions of his daughters, who rebel against the custom of arranged marriage and choose to marry for love. Although he never quite lets go, Tevye’s grip on his heritage is increasingly fragile. Andy Nyman gives a stunningly natural and captivating performance of this central role. Whilst making light of his plight with precision-timed quips and asides, we are also continuously aware of his fear of the threat of exile and, more poignantly, his love for his wife and daughters.

In its first major cast change since the transfer Maria Friedman takes over as his wife Golde. Friedman’s formidable presence is the perfect complement to Tevye; one that no Matchmaker could cap. Their onstage chemistry evokes the hard-won intimacy built from the ups and downs of a twenty-five-year marriage; culminating in the tender self-realisation of their duet “Do You Love Me?” Friedman again pours the liquid gold of her voice over the achingly angelic “Sunrise, Sunset”, one of the choral highlights. In fact, the entire company do wonderful justice to Jerry Bock’s sumptuous score, with a sensitive, but never sentimental, interpretation of Sheldon Harnick’s lyrics. Molly Osbourne and Nicola Brown as the daughters Tzeitel and Chava are joined by Ellie Mullane impressively stepping in as Hodel. The three sisters give heartfelt performances, accentuating the satire often missed in “Matchmaker, Matchmaker”. The village matchmaker is indeed central to the story, and her role is made more vital by Anita Dobson who takes on the mantle with a thrilling energy, showing us her dab hand at comic timing.

But beneath this musical portrait of family and community is the solemn undercurrent of violence, anti-Semitism and persecution; sadly still all too pertinent. Matt Cole’s choreography, paying homage to Jerome Robbins’ original, shows how rapidly high spirits can descend into oppressed chaos, particularly when a vodka-soaked wedding dance is broken by the arrival of a vicious tsarist pogrom at the close of the first act. A threat that is taken to its tragic conclusion in the final scenes.

The human touch easily sits alongside the disturbing historical commentary. Yet, despite the epic themes, the staging of this production lends real intimacy to a thousand seat venue, and by avoiding the temptation to overplay to the rafters the emotional impact touches the heart with much more force. Its message is clear; but what is equally clear is that this quite simply is still a triumph of a show. Musical theatre at its best. Matchless.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Johan Persson


Playhouse Theatre

Fiddler on the Roof

Playhouse Theatre until 2nd November


Last ten shows covered by this reviewer:
Elegies For Angels, Punks And Raging Queens | ★★★ | Union Theatre | May 2019
Mycorrhiza | ★★★ | The Space | May 2019
The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button | ★★★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | May 2019
The Talented Mr Ripley | ★★★★ | Wilton’s Music Hall | May 2019
Vincent River | ★★★★ | Trafalgar Studios | May 2019
Pictures Of Dorian Gray (B) | ★★★ | Jermyn Street Theatre | June 2019
The Flies | ★★★ | The Bunker | June 2019
The Importance Of Being Earnest | ★★★★ | Tabard Theatre | June 2019
The Decorative Potential Of Blazing Factories (Film) | ★★★ | The Coronet Theatre | June 2019
Bitter Wheat | ★★★★ | Garrick Theatre | June 2019

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