It’s not often that you get to see some of the leading lights of theatre and musical theatre in an intimate cabaret setting. On Reflection is a rare opportunity to do so, and it is a great experience. Janie Dee, who played Phylis in the National Theatre’s triumphant production of Follies, has brought together some of the stars of the show to share personal experiences and songs in the intimate setting of Underbelly’s Spiegeltent.
Having seen Follies a few days previously, just before it closed, it was fascinating to see the closeness and friendship between the cast. Dee’s idea to stage this cabaret style show was inspired by the theme of reflection and the connection between past and future that runs through Follies. She asked some of her fellow actors if they would be willing to share a personal story and a song, reflecting on something from their own past. Taking part in this show is a way for them to fill the void left by the end of Follies, keeping some of the company together for a while.
Each actor had brought a photo; themselves as a baby, a loved one who had passed away, something that meant something deep or funny. They told their stories, and sang their songs, weaving an evening full of feeling; sadness, nostalgia, love and hilarity. Aimee Hodnett regaled the audience with her total failure when auditioning for Cats, and attempting to stand out from the crowd in not the wisest manner! She then had everyone in stitches with her rendition of ‘The Girl in 14G.’ Adrian Grove moved people to tears with his story of his father’s dementia, and how sometimes he would know him, and sometimes not. He sang a beautiful duet with Ian McLarnon.
Alyn Hawke took us back to the golden age of musical movies with a medley of his childhood idols, Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, and Vanessa Fisher belted out an inspiring version of Des’ree’s ‘You Gotta Be’. There were so many outstanding stories and songs. Janie Dee talked about how she was warned off taking a musical theatre job by her agent, because ‘nobody would take her seriously as an actress’. They were wrong. She was spotted in the show by Sir Peter Hall and asked to work with him at the National Theatre. She danced, charmed us all and ended the evening by introducing Stefan Bednacyk, the pianist, and inviting all the performers on stage. Josh Seymour directed the show, allowing everything to seem spontaneous, and to be truly heartfelt. The evening was personal, enchanting and all rather marvellous.
“the beauty of this musical (a real showcase of some of Sondheim’s finest numbers) is that the songs do not eclipse the characters”
A lot has been made of the gender swapping element of Marianne Elliott’s ground breaking production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Company”. By his own admission, Sondheim was initially unsure that he wanted it to happen. His reservations were understandable: all too often you see theatre where the protagonist has been made female and it doesn’t always work. It is to Elliott’s credit that he was persuaded to allow it (such was Sondheim’s faith in her) and the result is a brilliantly up to date reimagining of the work.
It seems that few alterations have been made to George Furth’s book. There are the obvious pronoun substitutions and lyrical changes, yet it is a seamless transformation – it is easy to forget that this version isn’t how it was originally written. Although it is radical, it doesn’t feel it. It feels natural and poignantly relevant, which is the ultimate compliment. Leave any preconceptions and debate at the door and just revel in the astonishing gorgeousness of this production.
In the absence of any real plot it relies on the sharp dialogue and characterisation and, of course, Sondheim’s inimitable score. Each song is a vignette – a stand-alone moment, but wedded to the narrative and given a sparkle of confetti by Bunny Christie’s ingenious ‘Alice in Wonderland’ design.
Rosalie Craig plays Bobbie, the single, independent woman, as a bewildered onlooker; surveying the inexplicable bargaining, bickering, compromises, trade-offs, understandings and misunderstandings of her friends’ marriages. She perfectly treads the path from amused derision through to a longing to be part of this weird world of wedded ‘bliss’. The dichotomy is heightened coming from the perspective of a woman aware of her biological clock ticking away on her thirty-fifth birthday. There is a spellbinding routine where Liam Steel’s choreography has four identically dressed versions of Bobbie appear to her in a dream as spirits of her future self; stuck in a clockwork loop of morose matrimony and motherhood. Craig gives a performance that will surely make her a West End fixture for quite some time.
But she is in good company. It is a show full of star turns. Jonathan Bailey showers the audience with the impossibly quick-fire lyrics of “Getting Married Today” with the lung capacity of a free-diver. George Blagden, Richard Fleeshman and Matthew Seadon-Young, as Bobbie’s three potential boyfriends offer a gloriously fresh take on “You Could Drive a Person Crazy”. Patti Lupone’s “The Ladies Who Lunch” is an unforgettable cry of self-deprecatory discontent. But the beauty of this musical (a real showcase of some of Sondheim’s finest numbers) is that the songs do not eclipse the characters. Mel Giedroyc and Gavin Spokes as the abstemious argumentative couple in denial, Daisy Maywood and Ashley Campbell as the happily divorced couple, Jennifer Saayeng and Richard Henders as the doped-up, straight-laced couple are all hilarious yet touching (my word count is cautioning me to be self-editing here). The entire piece comes with an immense sense of fun, without losing any of the emotive power. Craig’s solos; “Someone Is Waiting”, “Marry Me a Little” and, of course “Being Alive”, are achingly pure and heartfelt.
The friends that surround Bobbie repeatedly urge her to find somebody who will take care of her. “But who will I take of?” she responds. I think it’s safe to say that the success of this show is well and truly taken care of. I hope nothing is booked into the Gielgud Theatre for the foreseeable future.
Craig’s Bobbie bookends many of the scenes with the simple, singular word ‘Wow’. I left the theatre with the same word resounding in my head. Sondheim’s musical and Elliott’s production is a perfect match.