A Little Night Music at Ye Olde
Rose and Crown Theatre

In our new series, BroadwayWorld UK writers nominate the shows they'd love to see revived!

I hadn't seen the Ingmar Bergman movie that inspired Stephen Sondheim's 1973 Broadway hit, A Little Night Music, but I had heard (and loved) The Rutles' sublime "Eine Kleine Middle Class Music" - Neil Innes's tribute to "Come Together", a ferocious satire on the emptiness of a life materially too comfortable.

So, if Walthamstow was something of an incongruous locale for the show (or it was in 2015, not so much in 2018), I expected a bit of the angst promoted by Waitrose being out of stock in the avocado aisle, but I got a lot more.

Sondheim (and Hugh Wheeler, who wrote the book) gives us a profound meditation on regret, on opportunities not taken, and - joyously, and just for a moment - on opportunities to be seized.

Set in a country house in the endless light and still gentle heat of the Swedish midsummer, privileged people sing in waltz time of the lives they've led. Barbs are flung, and many hit home, but there's a prevailing sense that it may be all too late, that the accommodations make the price today so much more than it once was, that any move one makes oneself changes so much else on life's chessboard that it might be best simply to leave things as they are.

These are, of course, the thoughts that anyone in middle age has when reflecting on a life in which the big decisions are all done. Is it time to "Send In The Clowns" - distracting oneself with bread and circuses - or take a last spin on the roulette wheel of life, staking all on red? Things may fall into place for the ill-suited couples in the musical, but real life is seldom so neat.

If the universality of the work's themes make any time a good time for a revival, Sondheim's grown-up work is much needed in these days of shouty populism. At its heart is the proposition that what really matters is neither the trappings of wealth nor the outward display of marital harmony, but an inner calm, a peace made with the world and with those with whom you choose to navigate its slings and arrows.

But it also tells us that it's never too late to revisit decisions made as circumstances change, swallow pride, and look to a future that irrefutably offers more than the present.

The show also gives not just one, but two, iconic songs to women. "The Miller's Son" is an extraordinarily blunt celebration of a young woman's right to be as assertive in her sexual life as any young man (and, as I write here, one of my favourite songs in any musical).

With the politics of dating, the challenge of unambiguous consent and the power imbalance (still) extant between so many women and so many men, the song may feel out of time.

But it's a wonderful restatement that sex is not something that "men do to women", but something that two people can choose to enjoy without consequences beyond that pleasure, particularly in that narrow window before obligations - financial, romantic, societal - crowd in.

So, A Little Night Music in an airy space (perhaps even outdoors) in midsummer with a glass of gin and tonic in hand? Well, I might even be able to stomach more than five minutes of Question Time after that.

Which shows do YOU want to see revived? Let us know!

Photo credit: David Ovenden

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From This Author Gary Naylor

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