Review: A Little Night Music

ANNA SHEINMAN: ‘all in all, not a totally unpleasant way to spend an afternoon’

Carl Magnus emma Frederik Egerman Jonathan Padley Scandinavia Schnapps

15th -17th June in Emma Fellow's Garden. £6.

Sondheim’s charming musical tale of virginity, lechery and Schnapps in turn-of-the-century Scandinavia was brought to Emma Fellow’s Garden in a slightly lacklustre manner by director James Hallet. Choosing to stage a play set in the perpetual twilight of a Swedish winter and containing rather seedy themes, in the bright sunshine of May Week is somewhat questionable, but I got a nice tan, so I shan’t complain. At least not about that.

A rather mixed cast in terms of talent lead us through the well known story of Frederik Egerman, whom, sexually frustrated by his virginal trophy wife Anne embarks on an affair with an ex, the famous actress Desiree. Love… hexagons? Septagons? Shall we say, a complex tangle of love interests between those three, Frederik’s pious son Henrik, Desiree’s other lover Count Carl Magnus, his wife, and Anne’s maid add to the general confusion and connivance. This was helped and/or hindered along by a chorus, that ranged from the exceptional to the shoddy.

Jonathan Padley as Frederick, with long bushy hair in a pony tail, snaggle teeth and a hungry glint in his eyes looked like the sort of man I would cross the street from on a dark night. My judgements on his face aside, his comic timing and well placed air of world weariness made him one of the best things on stage. Andrew-Mark Hanraham was hysterically funny as the blustering, pistol wielding jealous lover, and Livia King’s Desiree, although lacking a particularly strong singing voice, her long limbs and fantastic smile made her totally convincing as a flaky, fabulous superstar. Sadly, another reason these three stood apart was because I could hear them. Amanda Kay as Anne Egerman was suitably sweet but much too quiet. I found myself gritting my teeth in fury every time Danielle Phillips, who played Desiree’s daughter walked on stage. She was completely, pathetically inaudible and I was sitting one row from the front. 

There are many things to compete with in an outdoor performance: background noise, poor acoustics and lack of a backstage. The production had the potential to be charming but people changing were poorly hidden behind trees. Matters were not helped by a clearly under-rehearsed orchestra, most of whom looked like they were working off a hangover from a ball the night before, thus the music improved somewhat in the second half, since, one assumes, they were sobering up.

There were some moments of magic: the play within a play had the level of vocal energy and projection so lacking in the rest of the piece, and Sondheim’s lyrics (“She sparkles” … “How pleasant”) remain funny and cutting. There were also some true atrocities. Anne’s maid Petra had the unfortunate claim to being in the most excruciatingly embarrassing sex scene I’ve ever seen, and they only had a peck on the lips. I don’t know who to blame, the director for blocking it horribly, or the lovers for being clearly very embarrassed themselves. I don’t want to analyse it, I still shudder remembering it. Oh and the play was two and a half hours, which is a very long time to sit on your bum on the grass. So all in all, not a totally unpleasant way to spend an afternoon, but a lot of things went wrong. Ho hum, at least it didn’t rain.