The Theatreguide.London Review
Little Night Music
The Menier has done it again - for the fourth year running, their winter musical at this fringe theatre has a richness and power that would put larger and better financed producers to shame.
A Little Night Music will undoubtedly follow Sunday In The Park, Little Shop of Horrors and La Cage Aux Folles into the West End. But I'd encourage you to see it at the Menier, since most of its special virtues rise from the intimate setting.
Of course it helps that producer David Babani has lured Trevor Nunn to direct his first small-scale musical. Nunn's production is not perfect, but it is excellent in all the places that count, making this as near-perfect a version of this very difficult-to-stage musical (It defeated the National Theatre in the 90s) as you are ever likely to see.
This is the one with 'Send In The Clowns,' the one about the lawyer with a young wife who encounters the actress who's an old flame. But she has a current lover, and he has a wife - and in the course of a long Scandinavian evening everyone rearranges themselves into more sensible pairings - all to Stephen Sondheim's lush melodies and witty lyrics.
Trevor Nunn's biggest contribution to this revival's success is in guiding his cast to exploit the small scale by pitching their performances toward the intimacy the 150-seat Menier allows. Subtle underplaying that would be lost in a larger theatre makes the characters come alive and even the set pieces seem fresh.
Nowhere is this seen better than in Hannah Waddingham's rendition of the dreaded Clowns song, which she simply sings as if we had not heard it a million times before. Famously, the star of the original production, Glynis Johns, was not a trained singer, without strong breath control, so Sondheim had to write her big number in short phrases. Waddingham lets her character use each pause to think and to discover the next phrase, and so makes it fresh and dramatically real.
The production is full of moments like that. As the ageing grande dame of the household Maureen Lipman underplays all her droll and acerbic comments instead of pushing them too hard at us, and thus draws us to her and lets us appreciate her underlying warmth.
Nunn has generally cast the musical about a decade younger than the roles have previously been played, and the most that can be said is that it works without adding or detracting much, beyond allowing the casting of the delectable Waddingham, who we don't have to imagine as a woman who once was sexy.
He has also reinstated a song for the old lady's valet that was cut from the original production. It's not much of a song, but it does lead into and set up the maid's 'Miller's Son' song, which always felt out of place to me.
Kaisa Hammarlund is quite delightful as the maid, Alexander Hanson is manly as the lawyer and not afraid to let him be foolish as well, Alistair Robins keeps the popinjay lover human, and Kelly Price does far more to make his unhappy wife come alive than anyone else I've ever seen in what I would have dismissed as a thankless role.
The only criticisms to make of Trevor Nunn's staging are that he doesn't seem to know what to do with singers when they've finished a song, leaving them standing there trying to figure out a way to get offstage, and he hasn't really found a small-stage solution to what to do with the Chorus. But these are petty complaints, and in no way spoil the delight of the evening.
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Review - A Little Night Music - Menier 2008