The Rose and Crown in Walthamstow is not an easy location for a show if you’re a south Londoner. Nearly ten minutes north of the terminus of the Victoria line, it’s about as far away as you can see theater as you can get while still staying within zone 2. But again and again I find myself making the trek to this pub for the fantastic productions All Star Productions keeps mounting in the upstairs space. It’s like Lost Musicals has decided to make fully fledged shows in a bijou venue – while you don’t usually get slumming West End stars, you do get deliciously unmiked singing and dancing so close that the skirts brush across your knees if you’re in the front row. I love this.
For A Little Night Music, I was, for once, not seeing a show pulled from the depths of obscurity: no, this Sondheim musical is probably his best known. It is even one that I had seen before, at the Menier, so the expectations were high – high enough that I got a ticket for previews because I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss it. But that was nearly eight years ago now – and settling down in my (front row) seat, I realized I remembered about three things about the play; it’s about an aging actress hosting a party in the country (the other things I won’t mention as they’re spoilers). It’s got one famous song (“Send in the Clowns”) and another one that’s at least hummable; by Sondheim standards, this is fairly big news!
I’m pleased to report that, among other pleasures, this version of A Little Night Music feels as refreshing as an autumnal breeze after a stifling summer. The acting is genuinely comic: Sarah Waddell (as Desirée Armfeldt) is full of mischief and joie de vivre; while, in a surprising turn, Jamie Birkett’s (as the Countess Charlotte Malcom) had us nearly busting our corsets with laughter. I’d struggled to keep the stories straight before, but, even with the numerous dancers adding energy to the scenes, I never lost sight of the core: Desiree, her old lover Frederick (Alexander McMorran), and his young wife Anne (Maria Coyne). Coyne didn’t entirely hold up her end as she tended toward shrillness rather than subtlety and even managed to drown out McMorran’s first solo; well, that was alright in the end, because McMorran himself smoothly convinced me of the sorrows (and passions) of late middle age.
Although I could nearly complain that the show just became too busy (and even needed some softening), my suspicion is that a few more nights will have taken care of a few of the lumps, leaving the show stripped down to its core; a romance more bittersweet because of the passing of time. In some ways, in people’s ability to change their futures, this is more of a fairytale than Into the Woods: only with the dark burden of death hovering over it all, much like it does in daily life if we bother to raise our heads from our desks and realize the future we have to face. I recommend this well-sung evening – but do cushion your chair with a sweater as the first act is around ninety minutes on its own and the seats at this venue are NOT comfortable.
(This review is for a preview performance that took place on October 8, 2015. If wishes were horses I’d like to see All Star Productions put a cast list online for this and all future shows so penny pinching reviewers can more easily credit cast members.)