Follies fail to shine

9 February 2008

Follies, ADC Theatre, 6-9 February, 23:00

2 Stars

Reviewer Joe Hunter

Follies, by Stephen Sondheim, tells of the re-union of a group of showgirls and guys in a theatre they used to perform in, many decades past. They re-visit the songs they used to sing, and indulge in nostalgia aplenty. Regrets and old passions rise to the surface as the evening progresses, and shadowy phantoms of their younger selves flit on and off the stage.

This production frames the stage with a gaudy but dilapidated wooden surround, evocative of pre-war cabaret theatres, which effectively paints an image of faded glamour and decay. The stage has a raised platform with steps leading up to it back centre which, when combined with the orchestra in the pit and at each side, creates a nice tiered effect and provides a well defined space in the centre for the actors.

There are two really well executed, standout moments in this production. Aging movie starlet Carlotta Campion’s proudly defiant number ‘I’m Still Here’ is one of them. Eve Rosato, who plays Campion (decked out in a glittery dress which casts shimmering reflections all over the theatre), owns the stage: her voice has a beautiful husky quality to it that makes an audience sit up and take note. Also, Maud Millar gives a charming, vulnerable performance as ex-showgirl Sally Plummer, and her tearful delivery, standing in a spotlight, of ‘Losing my Mind’, is something to behold.

The entire cast has excellent voices. The orchestra, too, are a pleasure to listen to. And while the acting sometimes veers towards the cringe-worthy this doesn’t detract significantly from the overall effect. However, this production is effectively crippled by some major flaws.

Chief among these is the sound. Perhaps because of the theatre’s acoustics, or the sound mixing, or some other technical oversight, the vocals are often drowned out by the band. In a musical, this is unforgivable: the plot is mostly guesswork on the audience’s part since the songs are such a driving force in a show like this. And more fundamentally, it affects the quality of the music to such a degree that it almost completely ruins the production. Additionally the dance choreography, a vital part of the aesthetic, is often distinctly amateurish and naïve, when it isn’t simply unimaginative.

Follies leaves the audience under-whelmed. Part of the problem is that it occupies the Lateshow slot: performing a show like this late at night to a generally tipsy, casual audience means you really need to get it right to hold their attention. Unfortunately, this production fails to do so.