BWW Reviews: UK Film Premiere Of MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG, Cineworld Haymarket, October 22 2013
It's probably fair to say I didn't approach this screening from the most objective of standpoints: having seen the West End production of 'Merrily We Roll Along' four times, and having wanted to fit a few more trips in before it closed, I was already very much on board with the general critical consensus, overwhelmingly positive as it was.
Seeing it in the cinema was an appealing prospect, not least because the cast would be in attendance so presumably one would have the opportunity, seat allocation permitting, to gawk at them at various points to gauge their reactions. That aside, I expected what was happening onscreen to be merely a pleasant reminder of what I saw those four times, and it never really occurred to me that it might offer something new.
Almost instantly, however, I realised that would not be the case here. While on my visits to the Harold Pinter Theatre, I watched the whole show from various viewpoints (and in one lamentable instance, from behind a pillar), this carefully-assembled filmed piece, shot over three performances, offers the kind of dynamic viewing experience that could only have been matched had I been running around the theatre, and up on to the stage, glaring into the actors' faces. Tiny moments that could have been - and in my case were - lost on the wide stage now appear in close-up, and the effect is as startling as it is delightful.
Jenna Russell's Mary is even more caustic and yet more human in this format, while Damian Humbley as Charley is as terrific as he always was - especially in the almost show-stopping Franklin Shepard, Inc. - and the transition of Frank (Mark Umbers) from arrogant movie producer to naive, wide-eyed youngster, is made more apparent here. Glyn Kerslake's turn as Joe Josephson is a good deal more enjoyable in this context than I found it in person, and Josefina Gabrielle absolutely lights up the screen as the bolshy, bitchy Gussie Carnegie.
Unfortunately, the sound - at least on this particular evening - was a bit on the quiet side, and after being routinely blasted by the Overture in the theatre, that came as something of a disappointment. Plus, the run time (the guts of three hours) is a little draining when it's all not actually happening in front of your eyes.
Minor quibbles aside, this opportunity to see what was a superlative production from a multitude of angles is one that should be treasured, and hopefully represents the first in a long line of West End presentations made possible the tremendously exciting efforts of Digital Theatre, among others.
Because the immediacy of live theatre can never truly be equalled, given the choice, I'd probably see it in person again instead but when a production has closed or - as will be the case with the vast majority of global screenings of 'Merrily' - was too far away in the first place, what a magnificent alternative this is.