A Little Night Music

Date 12th May 2017
Society University of Manchester Musical Theatre Society
Venue Council Chambers
Type of Production Musical
Director Chris Pope
Musical Director Matt Mitchell

Report

Author: Kevin Proctor

This production sweeps you away with the music, the voices, the movement, the tiny gestures, the bold but simplistic picture and comedic timing of a second glance.

Those who are familiar with this title may stew over how convincing the three generations of the Armfeldt women would be defined by a cast who are all the same age, be rest assured that any such pre-hesitation was forgotten within the first few minutes of the production. The ages of the characters will no doubt have proved to be a challenge given how vital they are in telling this tale but credit where it’s due, this fine company tacked the hurdle with accomplished techniques.  

Chris Pope’s direction is packed with inspiration, defined characters and indulges in the era to a virtuous degree. I adore seeing productions staged in-the-round, there’s something immediately exciting and reviving about it, offering a fresh and original take on a show in an instant. However, ‘the-round’ brings with it a collection of snags which can often go unaddressed, it may seem an obvious detail but sightlines need to remain in the forefront of the director’s mind when staging any production but more so when working with this layout, it was a little disappointing that too many moments (and crucial ones at that) were lost due to awkward positioning of furniture forcing actors to place themselves where they can only be seen by half of the audience - unless your audience fancy themselves as keen contortionists. Keeping the cast moving - as much as the script would allow it - was absolutely the right choice and impressively, the motivation to do so always appeared a natural choice above the logistical one.

The intimacy of this presentation was what made it so majestic by allowing the actors to underplay and incorporate so many subtleties into their performances.

Eimear Crealey’s Charlotte was seamless. Her perfectly finished act was as comedic as it was dramatic and her perceptive understanding contributed to deliver what was an impeccable and highly engaging portrayal.

The quintet chorus were a striking feature with magnificent vocals and immaculate poise throughout.

Hebe Church didn’t quite find solid ground for her ‘Millar’s Son’ rendition, spending too much time rolling around on the ground made it a struggle to see her if you were on the second row. It’s fashionable at the moment to introduce explorations of sexuality in period pieces, it’s everywhere on TV, film and in theatre, almost as an attempt to tell society that gays have always been around and are not just a fad since the legalisation. Having Petra’s secret lover as a woman was an intelligent touch which brought an entirely new and interesting layer to the character and interpretation of the song. Saying that, it’s fortunate that I know the lyrics to ‘The Millar’s Son’ or I probably wouldn’t have known what that scene was about. 

The money number from this show ‘Send In The Clowns’ didn’t disappoint thanks to Phoebe Rayners captivating act. Phoebe brought the exact style, humour, sexiness, mischief and mature poise to her Desiree which was wholly enjoyable and first rate throughout.    

As mentioned above, the intimacy of the setting allowed for the characters to offer a delicate and underplayed delivery which (for the most) worked wonderfully, although a highly favourable concept for me with this nature of production it did jar with the overtly pompous and animated character of the Count. Jack Hawkins certainly gave a splendid performance (as he always does) and he didn’t disappoint by any means though the relaxed and subdued vision did neglect this character, leaving him out on a limb against the other naturalistic and gentle portrayals.

Jess Adams brings a tarty wit to the wheelchair bound Madame Armfeldt, Alastair McNamara and Aine Mallon tread on thin ground with their romance which was wonderfully drawn through.

Also terrific was Richard Mellion as the likeable and romantically confused lawyer and Helena Stanway exposed the perfect  vulnerability and innocence of Fredrika.  

The gloriously haunting score was kept in fine check by Matt Mitchell and remained, as it should, as a constant undertone and support of the text and lyrics, sturdy and clear harmony work was executed from the vocals too, a credit to him and the company.

I found myself continually entranced in this production, there is so much about it that I adored. A little melodic and lyrical sophistication was just what the doctor ordered, thank you!