BWW Review: NEXT TO NORMAL at Gryphon Theatre Wellington
Reviewed by Lindsey Rusling
BWW Review: Next to Normal
At Gryphon Theatre, Wellington until 11 May 2019
Director: Alick Draper
Musical Director: Katie Morton
Theatre Company: Stagecraft
There is a reason Next to Normal won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. A straight-talking, realistic look at mental illness, this Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey penned rock musical is an honest and emotional look at the effects of grief, mental illness and the ethics of mental health treatment. It should be noted that there have been updates in understanding of and treatment for bipolar disorder since the musical was written in 2008 but there is still no cure. It is lovely to see that the programme contains trigger disclaimers for potentially disturbing content.
Slickly directed and choreographed by Alick Draper to create memorable frames, Stagecraft's production with its simplistic set of one non-descript space with dining table and chairs and a number of doorways to facilitate flow, does not disappoint.
Next to normal focuses on the struggles of one woman, Diana Goodman (portrayed with intensity, dynamism and stellar vocal by Karen Anslow) with bipolar disorder and the effect of her illness on the whole family. The storyline is heartbreaking and an emotional journey for the cast and audience - a major plot reveal flips the story, complicating matters for the family even more.
Jeff Bell brings empathy to his role as the long-suffering husband, Hannah Pohl forms a beautifully sung and authentic characterisation of a hurting young woman (daughter Natalie) descending into drug use and Devon Neiman is stunning as the teenage "Gabe". Neiman's dazzling voice and obvious dance background give him a riveting, athletic energy on stage. He has oodles of potential and I fully expect to see great things from him in the future.
The talented vocalists are rounded out by Dryw McArthur as Natalie's sincere and lyrical boyfriend and a comedic Ben Emerson as the Doctors in Diana's life.
Technical aspects of the production were solid. The lighting was beautiful and it was wonderful to see a community theatre production using the newer LED frenels to great effect.
The music, under the direction of Katie Morton and team was flawless although with head mic amplification it was important to keep the sound balance in check, particularly as rock songs can sometimes necessitate a screechy vocal.
Overall, this production was a simple, raw and heartfelt presentation that was delivered to a professional standard. The pertinent subject matter was treated thoughtfully and sensitively leaving many in the audience feeling introspective and emotionally moved.