Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music will break your heart and fumble it messily back together again, but this production struggles to do the musical justice. Beautiful lyrics make it a timeless classic, however, this uneasy production almost loses its touch.
We travel lazily through an endless Scandinavian summer night at the turn of the 20th century. While the twilight seems to never come to an end, the relentless message of this musical is that of wasting time. As Henrik (Hugh Cutting) laments “Though I've been born, I've never been! How can I wait around for later?… Doesn't anything begin?” Desiree Armfeldt (Ashleigh Weir) is a glamourous touring actress with an eccentric mother and young sombre daughter, who realises, maybe too late, what she really wants in life. One of Sondheim’s most famous songs ‘Send in the Clowns’ turns this musical from a slightly tortured farce into a heart-breaking reflection on wasted life and love, Desiree sings – “Just when I'd stopped opening doors, Finally knowing the one that I wanted was yours. Making my entrance again with my usual flair, Sure of my lines, No one is there.”
The singing is breath-taking- and that is the most important thing to say. In particular Hugh Cutting as Henrik and Lucia Azzi as Petra, despite both playing relatively minor parts, deliver incredibly strong vocals. Ashleigh Weir’s rendition of ‘Send In the Clowns’ is genuinely enough to bring you to tears. In general the singing is impeccable, impressive considering the complexity of the songs.
However, and here’s the part where I’m forced to be a bit mean, there are issues. While the singing is amazing, often the acting didn’t quite match up. Often there was a feeling of prioritising the audience over engaging with the scene, and the other actors. However generally the problem is less with the performers and more with the technical side.
The directing needs some work, with confused scenes and poor use of space. The real let down is the sound. Hopefully this was an issue with opening night and will be quickly resolved, but the sound was literally terrible. Sentences disappeared as microphone didn’t kick in fast enough, and when they did sometimes you wished they hadn’t. I don’t sing, but if my microphone was practically fizzling, I’d stop. This seems like a minor thing to criticise, but it throws the whole performance off and lets down an otherwise impressive production.
If you’re looking for a nice break from revision with beautiful songs sung by wonderful performers, it’s definitely worth stopping by for A Little Night Music. Hopefully, the technical issues will be resolved. It would be a real shame if this performance were let down by poor behind-the-scenes work.