Follies

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Cast & Creative

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LOOKING BACK WITH SONDHEIM

Outside Questors Theatre in Ealing last week resembled a building site which inadvertently created the right mood for Stephen Sondheim’s Follies, staged inside, directed with great panache by Amanda Pask for Barnes & Richmond Operatic Society.

A fortuitous setting because James Goldman’s book has a famous theatre manager (modelled on the late Ziegfield), Dimitri Weissman, played with lan by Mick Cawson, giving a farewell party in his about-to-be-demolished theatre for all the old Follies girls from the Thirties to the Seventies.

What follows is not a wallow in nostalgia, but a revelation of marital discontent as the principals, two married couples, former Follies girls Sally and Phyllis, husbands Buddy and Ben, meet again after 30 years and uncover a microcosm of middle-aged disappointment, disillusion and frustration.

This scenario is given great poignancy as the two couples, once friends complicatedly crisscrossed in love, are shadowed by the ghosts of their youthful selves re-enacting their past.

Ben and Phyllis Stone are rich, busy and unhappy. Buddy and Sally too are successful, but he is unfaithful, and she, romantically, thinks she is still in love with Ben.

It may sound depressing, but from overture to finale we got an extraordinarily talented cast memorably delivering song after song, spectacular costumes, well choreographed dance routines and Anthony Davie and the orchestra’s impeccable interpretation of Sondheim’s fantastic score.

Helen Donald made a vulnerable Sally, wishfully thinking that she was still young and beautiful ‘In Buddy’s Eyes’, and she and Ben were outstanding in ‘Too Many Mornings’, he particularly effective as he ironically reflects on ‘The Road You Didn’t Take’.

Steely and metallic as her silver sheath gown, Heather Hodgson gave a glittering performance as Ben’s disenchanted wife, Phyllis, rhetorically putting the question ‘Could I Leave You?’ with witty acidity.

Also shining brightly in his role as Buddy was Steve Alais at his sparkling best in clown-like garb, as he delivered the tongue-twisting ‘Buddy’s Blues’ in quickfire style.

Gems of performances came too from Angela Sturgeon as Carlotta, as she built up from low key to high voltage in ‘I’m Still Here’; Shirley Landey made a witty, gritty Hattie as she strutted her stuff in ‘Broadway Baby’; Mandy Stenhouse was splendidly, raucously funny as Stella as she led the oldies into ‘Who’s That Woman?’, culminating in a great tap routine with the young chorines, and Heidi and Young Heidi had Clare Henderson Roe and Amanda Gibbs in a beautifully sung ‘One More Kiss’.

Sondheim’s re-written musical ends on a more optimistic note than his original Broadway production, so we left the theatre on a positive upbeat note with reconciliation in the air. Unsentimentally, Follies suggests that the past should belong to the past.

Jenny Scott

Richmond & Twickenham Times

Show Date: February 1998

Venue: Questors Theatre

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