The most innocent, but often difficult question an actor can be asked is as follows: ‘What is your dream role?’ For me, the answer has always been quite straightforward: Imelda Staunton. Okay, if you want to get technical, there are admittedly a few problems with my answer. Firstly, Imelda is – strictly speaking – a person, not a role. Moreover there are, I suppose, some biological barriers impeding the fruition of my ambition….but nevertheless, friends and family members have been pretty supportive of my dream and its pursuit thus far.*
Friday night’s performance of Goldman and Sondheim’s Follies was full to the brim with its own hopes and dreams, as well as the firm reinstatement that my dream to become Im Stau will not die its death anytime soon.
This tale of young love, regret and romance is an utterly dreamy spectacle, and a must see for any performer in need of reminding why it is they began this crazy journey to showbiz in the first place.
As ever, my story is told from the view sitting in the cheap seats. Read on for reasons why you should absolutely break into that piggy bank to see Follies this autumn at the National Theatre.
*the current status of Ms Staunton’s views on the matter are unconfirmed at this time.
Date of viewing: 02/09/2017
Seat: Circle, G62
How cheap!?: £7.50 – (Entry Pass membership for 16-25 year olds)
I’m a firm believer of the old saying, ‘you can’t see a bad show at the National’. (Okay, the saying’s mine, and it’s not particularly old… but I stand by it!) The Olivier Theatre is, undoubtedly, an unlikely home for glitzy showbiz musical, but it houses the crumbling Weismann Theatre exceptionally well. The story of Follies takes commemorates the history of Dimitiri Weismann’s glamourous showgirls who congregate in the dilapidating theatre one last time before its demolition. Whilst the piece offers opportunity for numerous has-been performers to indulge in their former lives and talents, the plot focuses primarily on the reunion between married couples Buddy and Sally Durant Plummer and their old friends Benjamin and Phyllis Rogers Stone.
As Dominic Cooke’s first direction of a musical, Follies at the National Theatre is ambitious and grand, making good use of the vast Olivier stage. He deals well with the fact that the lives of the central characters and their younger counterparts often run through the plot simultaneously, luring in the audience as he slowly unravels a clear and thorough directorial explanation. The stage and set in which he places his showgirls and their companions is inventive. Whilst perhaps more tame than the average National venture, the set is well representative of a crumbling but eternally grand music hall. The clutter and debris of the theatre does not detract from the glamour of the characters it surrounds, and a thick wall of forgotten and fading theatre ‘stuff’ cleverly mimics the dreams of the past – now barely distinguishable.
The stars of this show shine boldly and brightly. Imelda Staunton plays the passionate, feeling (and a little crazy) Sally Durant who has never quite grown up from the love and fantasy of her days as a follies girl. As ever, Staunton is sincere and full of love as she plays the emphatic little beast that is Sally. For the now aging showgirl, the follies reunion is the once-in-a-lifetime chance for Sally to rekindle old love and dreams she had as a girl, and the totally believable Staunton clearly enjoys every second of it. Her rendition of the incredibly moving Broadway classic ‘Losing my mind’ is touching and heartfelt, giving insight into Sally’s heart-breaking realisation that her bursting little heart causes its own all-consuming destruction. Sally is a softer, and more innocent character than Staunton is most commonly seen playing – and although an intentionally aging character, she is played with an inner youthfulness which is refreshing to see.
“As ever, Staunton is sincere and full of love”
Whilst watching Imelda Staunton might be a glorious reminder of who I want to be, the exposure to Janie Dee’s portrayal of Sally’s former sidekick Phyllis is a painful reminder of what I currently am: a sassy, sarcastic, blunt and cocksure little so-and-so. And it is an absolute pleasure to watch. Janie Dee is thoroughly delightful in her portrayal of an ageing wife who has grown tired of life and its disappointments. She commands the stage masterfully and scores laugh after the laugh from her captive audience, which is treated particularly when she sings ‘Would I leave you?’: an assertive act of defiance against her husband, Ben. Dee is suave and sexy as Phyllis and demands attention competitively.
“Janie Dee is thoroughly delightful”
These magnificent women play along a well matched pair of men. Sally’s beautifully hopeless husband Buddy is played by Peter Forbes, whose portrayal is touching and honest. Buddy is open about his infidelity to Sally but believable in his insistence that it is Sally he truly loves. Forbes plays the character well, with warmth and humour – particularly, during his ‘The-God-why-don’t-you-love-me-blues’, which is playful and showy whilst able to evoke its own touch of sympathy. Phyllis’ cool and collected husband, Ben, offers Philip Quast the chance to display a broad spectrum of emotions. Ben’s calm and dry nature is challenged when, towards the end of the show, he suffers something of a breakdown upon realising that his life is more complicated than he’d have liked it to be – and Quast’s execution of this epiphany is powerfully vulnerable.
“Quast‘s execution of this epiphany is powerfully vulnerable”
These central characters play out their lives intertwined with those of their former selves, and are frequently accompanied onstage by the younger performers who each give confident and stylish performances. Particular praise must go to Alex Young (a fellow KCL Music graduate!) whose version of Young Sally is a perfect balance of femininity and fire.
The entire ensemble is incredibly strong. Accolades of praise could go to any number of performers, but a handful stand out particularly. Di Botcher’s larger than life personality fuels her characterisation of former showgirl Hattie superbly, who sings the show stopping ‘Broadway Baby’ with power and force. Tracie Bennett is achingly funny as Carlotta and incredibly moving, and the majestic Bruce Graham sings the famous ‘Beautiful Girls’ with the voice to match.
“Alex Young… is a perfect balance of femininity and fire”
Follies is a beautiful musical with a genuinely interesting plot. There is something very wonderful about a congregation of aged actors who showcase their wisdom and talents, supported by a younger ensemble. The whole piece has an unsurprising air of maturity which, I believe, pushes quality to the fore. The young cast do well to support their veteran peers in a show which I’m sure must inspire them to never let the dream die. And I believe I shall follow suit. Imelda, here I come!
the girl sitting in the cheap seats