StageScan Pick: Follies

Follies at the National Theatre, in its first full London staging since 1987, received a 4.5-star average from pro critics, with most awarding five. Andrzej Lukowski (Time Out) praised Stephen Sondheim’s “elegiac, eloquent work”. Tim Bano (The Stage) thought it “slightly plotless” and Michael Billington (Guardian) admitted it’s “problematic” despite songs which deftly “combine emotional pain and witty pastiche”. Lukowski suggested Sondheim, though “peerless,” is “very hard to get right”.

Billington saw Dominic Cooke’s “superb revival… without a trace of camp” give “this bleakly festive musical a poetic unity” suggesting he “never lets you forget the astringent sadness beneath the spectacle”. Bano suggested it “has always been about looking back” and here is “as much about looking back from 2017”. Lukowski described a “towering” revival which “pierces both heart and brain” suggesting Cooke brings “the edge you’d hope for, a hard clarity and sense of brooding dread” without neglecting “the fancy stuff”. He described a “frankly extraordinary… huge and prodigious” cast which Bano judged “insanely strong”.

Lukowski found Imelda Staunton “owns the most complex role”, hailing “a great singer”. Bano observed her “dazzling presence” here become “nervous energy with an anxious smile” and saw her “find character progression in a show which, really, has none”. Billington found her Sally “unforgettable” as, by Losing My Mind, she’s become “a lovelorn wreck” whose “voice seems to dissolve on the song’s final syllable”.

He saw Ben “beautifully played” by Philip Quast, who “gradually reveals the desolation beneath” an initial “urbane condescension” and admired the “conviction” with which, in Live, Laugh, Love “he goes to pieces in the midst of a top-hat-and-tails turn”. Bano reported “one of the best voices in the world”, admiring his ability to “act” while “hitting every note”. He thought Janie Dee “excellent” as “caustic, miserable Phyllis”, and Billington found her “brilliantly sardonic”. Lukowski felt “she nails” a “wistful tightrope act” also “showing us the lines that connect her to the vulnerable girl”.

He saw many “remarkable songs… dispatched as ‘turns’” by minor characters. Bano described Tracie Bennett’s “clever take” on I’m Still Here, turning its “list of her accomplishments… into a cry for attention”. Billington found it “simply breathtaking” and Lukowski agreed she “pretty much nukes the house”. Bano also highlighted Josephine Barstow and Alison Langer’s duet as old and young Heidi, “joining their two operatic soprano voices with crystal clarity”. He reported, “every 10 minutes or so… another stunner of a set piece, sung impeccably… with tight tap routines”.

Billington found Cooke “captures the sustained emotional arc of Sondheim and Goldman’s musical” leaving him “admiring” it “more than ever”. Lukowski summed up “a perfect, devastating evocation of the pain of looking back. Plus: tap-dancing!” Bano, reporting “goosebumps”, found it “worth the wait” and declared: “This isn’t just triumphant, it’s transcendent”.

Currently booking to 3 January, with tickets still available from the NT box office. And if you fancy another lavish five-star revival of a musical classic, we have tickets for Christopher Wheeldon’s An American in Paris starting from £22.

 

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