I had been planning for quite some time (since it’s announcement actually) to go to see ‘A Little Night Music’ at Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre on Sunday June 16th, however it wasn’t until the day before that it was confirmed that I could go, but I am SO glad that I managed to see this wonderful evening’s entertainment.
Stephen Sondheim is a composer who writes technically complex pieces, the music and harmonies sometimes sounding a little disjointed and extremely difficult to sing well, but this production was outstanding. The sensational cast really showed the work off to its best. Every single person on the stage deserved to be there and held their own alongside all of the others. I knew a little of the music before I went (‘Send In The Clowns’ perhaps the most famous number), but if I am honest I did not know the story behind the songs at all. Alex Parker had really worked wonders with his 31 piece orchestra who were faultless and his musical direction pulled everything slickly together.
Despite the fact that this was a concert, the production and Director Alastair Knights kept the script so the whole story was told clearly even without the addition of sets and props. The story also contained a lot of twists and turns, so although I partially guessed how it would end, there were still some surprises and a brilliant happy ending. I was also surprised at just how funny it was; I found myself laughing out loud on numerous occasions, Joanna Riding’s performance as Countess Charlotte Malcolm being one of the most comedic. Her drunken acting and one liners were superbly delivered. Madame Armfeldt (Julia Sutton) was another comical character with her words of wisdom, along with Laura Pitt-Pulford’s portrayal of Petra.
Anna O’Byrne was excellent as the virginal and angelic (both in character and voice) Anne Egerman, and Fra Fee played the rather solemn and thoughtful Henrik Egerman with sensitivity. It is always an absolute treat to hear both of these guys sing, for me it was the first time I had seen O’Byrne live, and I was blown away. The youngest member was Bibi Jay (Frederika Armfeldt) who delivered all of her lines clearly and confidently and was as good as any of the adults.
David Birrell and Janie Dee were both absolutely fantastic as Frederik Egerman and the actress Desiree Armfeldt respectively. Both gave such strong performances, Birrell with a lot of very difficult songs to sing, and Dee with a moving rendition of ‘Send In the Clowns’ and who maintained the thoroughly ‘stagey’ presence of an actress throughout. Simon Bailey was a late addition to the cast after he replaced Hadley Fraser, but you would never have known as he played Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm with arrogance, pomposity and humour. I have heard Bailey tackle a number of roles and songs but it was so good to hear him singing something so complex and which really showed off his voice, as indeed it did with everyone.
The show opened with the overture sung by the ensemble, which consisted of Scott Garnham (Mr Lindquist), Kimberly Blake (Mrs Nordstrom), Lisa-Anne Wood (Mrs Anderssen), Nadim Naaman (Mr Erlanson), Jenna Boyd (Mrs Segstrom) and Joe Richardson (Frid) who between them added some sublime harmonies and ‘filler’ tunes to set the scenes. Each act ended with full ensemble numbers – ‘A Weekend in the Country’ for Act One, and the originally named ‘Finale’ for Act Two, both pieces with full harmonies and the feel-good factor.
There was a massive buzz during the build up to this show, I know that the cast were all very excited (and I believe nervous in equal measure) to put this on, but the buzz continued through the audience and the standing ovation and shouts for ‘more’ were proof indeed that this was a special piece of theatre that we had just witnessed. The entire cast seemed to relish the challenge but you would never have guessed that there were nerves behind the vocals. On the way out, the murmurings I overheard were all glowing reports and there were a lot of smiling faces. I would call it a resounding success and I am delighted that I was able to share in it. I really hope there is something similar again soon.