As Storyhouse celebrates its first birthday our editor Angela Ferguson returns to our city’s beating cultural heart to watch the first of the theatre’s second summer season of homegrown offerings, A Little Night Music. Photos by Mark Carline.
The summer night smiles – apparently – and not once but three times. We’re intrigued by the prospect of just how this will pan out on the Storyhouse stage before us, set against a shimmering backdrop of golden hues and gloriously decadent gold chain curtains.
The welcoming yet simply adorned set provides a warm and intimate backdrop for this musical comedy, penned by award-winning composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim and set around the various happenings on a balmy Swedish summer’s evening. Love, lust, jealousy and regret all feature in this musical comedy, based on Ingmar Bergman film Smiles of a Summer Night.
Heart in mouth moments
It’s a thought-provoking and at times laugh out loud piece of theatre, with the sharp wit of Sondheim being swiftly followed by the bittersweet infusion of heart in mouth moments.
As to be expected with Sondheim, the music is avant garde, doing things you wouldn’t expect it to, just like the characters in our story as they seek to find or rekindle love in an age way before Tinder.
No need for Tinder
Indomitable matriarch Madam Armfeldt (Gay Soper), who definitely wouldn’t have needed the likes of Tinder going by her impressive list of former lovers, confidently informs us of the ability of a summer night to smile thrice. It is this and various other pearls of wisdom that she imparts to her granddaughter Fredrika (Megan-Hollie Robertson).
While Madam Armfeldt raises Fredrika at her home in the country, her daughter and Fredrika’s mother Desiree (Serena Evans) is a touring thespian with a tangled love life that’s all over the place to match.
Her married lover Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm (Kayi Ushe) has some cheek getting jealous when Desiree’s ex Frederik Egerman (Daniel Flynn) comes back into her life, despite scheduling in time with Desiree and then with his wife, the Countess Charlotte (Mary Doherty), with military precision whilst home on leave. But Charlotte is not a woman to be trifled with and comes into her own as the production goes on.
Oh and lawyer Frederik just happens to be married to the naive and innocent 18-year-old Anne (Eleanor Sutton), although their marriage has not been consummated 11 months on from the wedding day.
And Frederik’s son Henrik (Richard Lounds) is fed up of people laughing at him and of being constantly told ‘later’ – enough to cause him to sing about it and play cello – talented fellow.
Meanwhile, he is tempted by Anne and Frederik’s uber confident maid Petra (Leigh Quinn), who looks like she’s picked up a few tips from the burlesque talk as part of the recent Storyhouse Women weekend, with her confident and sassy sashaying across the stage. Still with us? It is, indeed, a complicated web being skilfully weaved in front of us by the talented cast and the slick eight piece orchestra.
It’s all wonderfully decadent and glamorous, with the array of 1970s outfits matching the decade in which Sondheim wrote this masterpiece and also complementing the golden set, all dreamed up by designer Jess Curtis. A group of elegant waltzing dancers, choreographed by Yukiko Masui, also enchant as part of the scene-setting for this tale, exchanging partners from time to time in a reflection of the characters’ love lives.
And another layer added to this heady summer scented climber of a show is the addition of our Greek chorus style group of harmonising singers and narrators Mrs Nordstrom (Natasha Bain), Mr Lindquist (Jonathan Dryden Taylor), Mrs Segstrom (Esme Sears) and Mr Erlanson (Simeon Truby).
Haunting torch song
Some of the songs included in this production may not be as instantly familiar as the showstopper Send in the Clowns, performed by Desiree in a melancholy reflection on her great regrets. It is a powerful piece of musical theatre, with the emotion pouring out onto the stage and filling the auditorium. Meanwhile, Petra’s emotive and haunting torch song, The Miller’s Son, gives us some insight into her dreams, perhaps for future summer nights. And the ear worm that is A Weekend in the Country is the soundtrack to the chaos that ensues when all of our characters head to Madam Armfeldt’s grand chateau for a summer gathering they will never forget.
This is an impressive production, directed by the creative hand of Alex Clifton, and one that imparts a golden glow as I set foot outside Storyhouse and head off into the Chester night, awaiting some beaming summer smiles of my own.
A Little Night Music runs into July as part of Storyhouse’s summer season. We have given it
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