MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG
music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim book by George Furth.
Clwyd Theatr Cymru (Anthony Hopkins Theatre) To 2 June 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 50min One interval.
TICKETS: 0845 330 3565.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 26 May.
Production gradually grows into the upbeat yet serious material.
It didn’t roll merrily in New York, crashing after 16 performances, but this 1981 musical has had success round England, with various revisions, including productions at Manchester Library Theatre and Leicester Haymarket.
Its time-scheme comes from the 1934 Kaufman and Hart play it’s based on, though the idea of showing events in reverse – it really is a look-back at life – had also been seen in 1980, when Harold Pinter’s Betrayal reached New York.
Betrayals, of others and of composer Franklin’s Shepard’s ability, are traced through the scenes of George Furth’s book, as events unwind from the rancid relationships of middle-age showbiz success to the loves and hope of youth.
Nikolai Foster’s production suggests this world of hope in Morgan Large’s design – a bare metal semicircle backed by skeletal metallic walls. It gives space without creating a detailed sense of the affluent showbiz environment of the more recent years. The sense of period comes from some props, costume and the department of woeful wigs and terrible tonsures.
Foster’s production scores in the earlier years. The staid parents of Franklin’s first wife have an honesty marked-out as their daughter enters a marriage whose future we already know. As Frank’s words-man Charley, Matt Cross provides an earnest integrity, with each punch hitting home in the men’s joint TV interview.
Simon Thomas’s tall, imposing Franklin has a magnetism which attracts the cultural leeches who nullify the sharper work that’s suggested in a light-hearted early satire on the Kennedy clan.
Rebecca Lock creates a tragic figure as Mary, unspooling from the sozzled wit of a Dorothy Parker to show the brilliant novelist she might have been and the reliable friend she always had been. And Large’s open space comes into its own at the end as the three first meet, with day, and a new age, about to dawn, up on the roof in a Breakfast at Tiffany’s-like optimism.
Sondheim’s score contrasts Franklin’s fall from grace with tunes that often breathe energy and optimism. The piece adds a New York dimension to Cyril Connolly’s Enemies of Promise but it’s no enemy to fine, intelligent entertainment.
Joe Josephson/Terry: Darren Bennett.
Charley Kringas: Matt Cross.
RU: Billy Cullum.
Mr Spencer/Scotty: Adrian Grove.
Mary Flynn: Rebecca Lock.
Dory/TV Anchor/Mrs Spencer: Amira Matthews.
KT: Julia J Nagle.
Jerome: Martin Neely.
Beth Spencer/Meg Kincaid: Verity Rushworth.
Franklin Shepard: Simon Thomas.
Tyler: Owain Williams.
Gussie Carnegie: Lucy Williamson.
Frank Shepard Jnr: Solomon Gibbs/Thomas Hallows/Dylan Honey.
Director: Nikolai Foster.
Designer: Morgan Large.
Lighting: Ben Cracknell.
Sound: Kevin Heyes.
Musical Director/Orchestrator: George Dyer.
Choreographer: Nick Winston.
Assistant director: Tom O’Brien.