BWW Review: FOLLIES, National Theatre
Follies begins with a gentle piece of music: warm, slow, romantic, that erupts into a jazz and brass extravaganza. Like the show that follows, it is full of highs and lows, big things and small things, pain and longing and fun.
The Weismann Girls were the talk of the town back in the Twenties and Thirties, but nowadays, the show's been cancelled, the theatre is scheduled for demolition, and the girls themselves are grandmothers. So they've decided to have a reunion - one last reunion, we are assured - to catch up with old friends and share a story and a song.
Reminiscing soon turns into fantasising, as the ghosts of the past join in on the reunion. Reality and fantasy mix, cohesively, at first, dancing along to the same number, until the weight of the fantasy brings the whole thing down. At the centre of it all are Phyllis and Ben and Sally and Buddy, who are desperate for something they know isn't real.
This production, now its in second National Theatre run, following great success in 2018, is faithful to the soundtrack, by Stephen Sondheim, many of us have worn so well, and the book, by James Goldman, we can quote from memory.
Sondheim's score is nostalgic, familiar; it is as if your own memories are singing for you, and how beautiful they sound. Nigel Lilley's orchestra is in fine form, dishing out hot tunes just as fast as the dancers can catch them.
Bill Deamer's choreography is spectacular, as are the immaculate ensemble who leap, tap, twirl, and astonish. One show-stopper in the first half, led by Dawn Hope, was followed by the longest mid-show ovation I've ever heard, and the applause might have continued into the night if we hadn't all been so eager for more.
It's hard to identify standouts in such a uniformly terrific cast, but Peter Forbes as Buddy hits every note, comedic and musical, just right, and better. Gemma Sutton, the young Sally, has a shining charisma and intense dramatic flare. Joanna Riding and Alexander Hanson, new additions to the cast as Sally and Ben, play the show's minor keys - subtle, suffering, and sublime.
The incredible thing is that Dominic Cooke's Follies doesn't just evoke memories, it makes new ones. The music is so haunting, the performances so touching, the dance so exhilarating, you'll find yourself thinking about it, humming about it, tapping to it, for a long time after.
Photo by Johan Persson