Review of 'Follies'

NT Live


We are huge fans of Imelda Staunton since we saw her in the wonderful Gypsy a few years ago at the Savoy Theatre. With the new production of Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Follies” in which she stars it was expected that it would pretty much sell out…and it did. We were lucky enough to catch a live broadcast at the Vue in Leicester Square as part of the NT Live series of cinema events.

“Follies” is set in 1971 New York on the stage of the Weismann Theatre on the eve of it's demolition. It is the 30th anniversary reunion of the girls from the “Weismann's Follies” overseen by Dimitri Weissman (Gary Raymond) himself. The party goes into the evening as alcohol is consumed and tempers flare with the woman relating their memories from the period and talking about their lives now. The story primarily focuses on two couples attending: Buddy (Peter Forbes; Fred Haig as young Buddy) and Sally Plummer (Imelda Staunton; Alex Young as young Sally) and Ben (Philip Quast; Adam Rhys-Charles as young Ben) and Phyllis Stone (Janie Dee; Zizi Strallen as young Phyllis). They were great friends back in the day of the show though now they have lost a bit of the sparkle they had for their partners. Sally has always been attracted to Ben and is willing to leave Buddy to run away with him. A story of love and loss and regret.

An incredible theatrical event ingeniously portrayed with the older actors mirrored on stage with their younger selves. It takes a bit of getting used to and is often confusing when the cast start talking between their older and their younger selves but it is amazing to watch. The staging is magnificent with the large crumbling ruins of the theatre freely moving about as we shift from scene to scene yet later this disappears altogether as we are presented with a standard proscenium arched view where the action takes place. This coupled with the amazing “in the round” experience of the National Theatre really engages with the audience. Large song and dance numbers do not fail to disappoint.

The music is, as one would expect from Sondheim, simply amazing. He acknowledges that much of it is a pastiche but it is a pastiche that is exceptionally well executed with the depth and nuance of a master. As with other Sondheim musicals this is not a simple story with the characters bearing their souls to the audience in a series of gut-wrenching scenes. These are not perfect people yet they are most definitely human and as such draw us into their lives.

Staunton is amazing as the two-faced Sally: All happy and gay one minute then stern and cruel the next. Her voice is magnificent as she utilises her amazing, and frankly surprising, vocal range. I cannot say she steals the show but she certainly draws your eye. Forbes as Buddy is effective as the disheartened husband of an uncaring wife seeking solace in the company of another. The “Buddy's Follie” piece towards the end of the show is an amazing “song and dance” vaudeville number that is incredibly well executed with a clean vibrancy about it. Dee portrays the cynical and stone-cold yet wounded Phyllis with equal aplomb as her presence dominates the stage. Quast as Ben is a more distant performance as he seems lost in thought throughout of what might have been. We quickly learn his air of success is not quite what it seems as his persona is stripped away in front of us. These are all very sensitive performances.

The “NT Live” production was quite well done preceded by quite a large number of (repeated) advertisements for their performances as well as, more compellingly, an interesting short documentary featuring Sondheim talking about this work. The camerawork throughout was exemplary as it captured the large production as if we were in the theatre seeing it live. There were only a few occasions where I would have been interested to see elsewhere but these were very few indeed. The sound was perfect and clear throughout.

At more than 2 hours without an interval this is not for the faint-hearted and I have to admit I found it a bit dragging towards the end (until we got into the four character's “Follie” numbers). This is not a light musical but has characters that will draw you in. In the end it does not really have a story (as Sondheim jokes) but, rather, it is about humanity and our failings.

Rating: “Nearly perfect, but not quite”

Review Date: 2017-11-30

Vue Leicester Square

Location: London (England)

Address: 3 Cranbourn Street, Leicester Square, London WC2H 7AL ENGLAND

Public Transport: TUBE Leicester Square

Telephone: +44 (0) 345 308 4620


Recently refurbished, the Vue Leicester Square is quite nice with an airy lobby having not only the typical Ben & Jerry's ice cream outlet and typical cinema fare like popcorn but it also has a “Square Pie” outlet (serving mini versions of their wonderful pies) and a “Pizzeria Maletti” outlet. The modern interior of the cinema features screens on four different levels with very comfortable, large reclining leather-like black seats throughout. Sound and picture quality is amazing but of course all of this, including the location, comes at a bit of a price…