Posted on November 19, 2017
In 1987 my mother, grandmother, and other female family members too a trip to London to see Follies on the West End. In 2017 Ma took me to see Follies streamed from the West End. Thirty years apart, just like the reunion in the musical.
National Theatre Live is essential. I’ve now seen six performances (seven if you count both parts of Angels in America) and they have varied from mind changing to very good. I’m starting to have a scale to judge such things and all of that is all due to the National Theatre putting plays on in 700 cinemas over the world. I can’t afford a train to London and a “proper” ticket but I can afford 17 quid in my local cinema.
I’d heard the name Sondheim before but I didn’t know who he was. According to the internet: Steven Sondheim wrote the music and lyrics to West Side Story, Sweeney Todd, Into the Woods, and Follies. None of which I had seen and don’t remember much of the Sweeney Todd film version. Seems it cut lots of bits of music. He’s a name so I was expecting something good.
There isn’t really a traditional story. There are various numbers reflecting on how some of the performers lives have turned out and then mixed in the ‘central plot’.
The main event takes place in 1971, thirty years after the Weismann’s Follies closed down, at a reunion party before the building is demolished. Except the central conflict between the main four characters takes place out of time. The older characters sharing a stage with the ghosts of their younger selves. Then the happy successful lies slowly unravel. Imelda Staunton’s character, Sally, sang early on about in her husband thought her perfect. With context, “In Buddy’s eyes” becomes evidence of another delusion.
Later in the show it becomes more about the two unhappy couples. They have an argument overlapping in era. Then it gets even weirder with each of their “Follies” being enacted and danced around with all the performers in the silliest outfits.
I enjoyed the side stories more than the main one. It was refreshing to see older ladies sing about how they still have lives ahead of them. Tracy Bennett introducing “I’m Still Here with a complaint that it’s viewed as a joke rather than a more honest evaluation of a life of mixed success.
This thing looked great. I loved the crumbing walls and seats covered in rubble. It contrasted so well with the elegant old ladies and their glittering ghosts. The young women following cautiously behind their future selves. Having the younger and older versions of the characters on stage at the same time sounds confusing but most of the time the brightest lights were on the “modern” versions of the characters.
And what’s a National Theatre show without a spinning stage? Three out of three of the NTLive shows from the actual Royal National Theatre building. Oh and the crazy outfits that look like how I imagine a stage show from almost a century ago.
I’m not really into musical theatre but I can say with certainly say everyone in it knew how to sing. It was joyful and touching. The twenty one piece orchestra hiding behind the stage got a standing ovation.
I don’t really know anything about dancing. Is anyone noticing a theme in my work?Seeing the older ladies dance together with varied levels of motion was delightful. When trying to recreate their old glory singing “Who’s That Woman”, they are joined by the echoes of their younger selves. Dancing around each other then all joining arms in a long line.
I’m giving Follies 4 stars. I’m not denying the huge amount of talent and money that’s gone into the production. Just themes of aging and relationships growing apart aren’t going to resonate with as someone as young as me. I’ll try to catch it in another thirty years. Maybe then I’ll take my Ma and really understand it.
I only zoned out once. For a two hour plus musical with no interval and that is commendable. Sondheim wanted it that way for “a reason” and it wasn’t like the marathon that was Angels in America. Maybe it’s as one piece because it’s all fragments of lives rather than a cohesive traditional story. Ranks 6th in the 7 NTLive streams I’ve seen.