Follies: National Theatre, London
Reviewed 9th December 2017
Follies tells the story of the iconic Weismann Theatre in New York, 1971, which is set to be demolished. Thirty years after their final performance, the Follies girls gather to celebrate, reminisce, sing, drink and tell lies about themselves. Including such classic songs as Broadway Baby, I’m Still Here and Losing My Mind, this is the first time that Stephen Sondheim’s legendary musical has been staged at the National Theatre.
The entire cast of this show are outstanding, but in particular Imelda Staunton impresses as Sally Durrant Plummer. Her stage presence is amazing; she holds the audience in her hands from the moment that she steps foot onto the stage. Not only is she an incredible actress but her vocals are also a delight and are performed with such emotion.
Janie Dee, who plays Phyllis Rogers Stone, is also fantastic in the role. She performs every note perfectly and her comic timing really adds something to the show. Playing alongside Philip Quast (Ben Stone) the two had great on-stage chemistry and kept the audience guessing about their relationship. Peter Forbes, who plays Sally’s husband Buddy Plummer, is also a fantastic leading actor. His vocals were strong throughout and again he was able to show emotion through the whole show.
In addition, Zizi Strallen (Young Sally), Alex Young (Young Phyllis), Fred Haig (Young Ben) and Adam Rhys-Charles (Young Buddy) were captivating. Their presence on the stage, whilst subtle, certainly added to the show and allowed the audience to see the couples past selves.
Tracie Bennett was a real comic treat as Carlotta Campion. Jordan Shaw also impressed with stunning dancing skills. As already mentioned the entire cast, from ensemble members to the leading actors were all outstanding in their roles. No fault could be said against any of them for their commitment and ability to immerse the audience in the era and decadence of the Follies girls.
Whilst the story, for me, was not entirely captivating throughout there is no denying that the staging and production by director Dominic Cooke is top notch. The ghosts of Follies past alongside the present is perfectly staged. The cast rarely leave the stage and yet all manage to stay completely in character, even when half hidden by the large central set pieces.
The set and staging works really well. A central revolve and limited set pieces provide an interesting and varied backdrop for a show which is actually only set within the Weismann Theatre. The orchestra performed perfectly throughout the show and Sondheim’s songs certainly filled the large stage of the National Theatre.
The show is almost worth a visit alone just to see the costumes. Designed by Vicki Mortimer, the costumes are absolutely gorgeous. The dresses, in particular, which make up some of the 160 costumes are extravagant and opulent. In addition to the sparkly costumes there are 62 headdresses, and 129 pairs of tap shoes – adorned with some 600,000 Swarovski crystals.
Likewise the incredibly talented orchestra, led by Nigel Lilley, performed perfectly throughout the show and Sondheim’s songs certainly filled the large auditorium of the National Theatre. It is unusual for more modern shows to use such a large orchestra so it was lovely to hear this production being backed by such wonderful live music.
The sold out show, which has also been screened in cinemas, has certainly attracted the crowds and the audience members seem very impressed. With its interesting staging, stunning costumes, superb cast and gorgeous Sondheim music this is surely a fantastic show to visit this festive period.
Follies runs at the National Theatre until 3rd January 2018. For more information and tickets visit: https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/follies
Photo Credit: Johann Persson