A Little Night Music

Wed 5th – Sat 8th December 2012

reviews

Anwen Jones

at 11:41 on 6th Dec 2012

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I love musicals - the realistic yet twisted plot lines, the vibrant display of characters, the costumes, the dialogue and of course, the singing. Perhaps, because of this, I had rather high expectations for MTB's Christmas production 'A Little Night Music.' However, despite being presented with a type of musical theatre I had never seen before, the show carried me with leaps and bounds into the gritty, sensual world of sex and relationships which is the basis for Sondheim's spectacular musical.

The opening of the show was lead energetically by the Liebeslieder Singers - a group of 5 obviously talented vocalists and actors (Vanessa Shields, Oli Higginson, Tom Dawkins, Harim Oh and Hayley Guest) - whose soaring notes and subtle interchanges with one another provided a perfect distraction to the removal of props and stage changes. Their constant presence throughout the performance attributed a sort of narrator aspect to their roles as songs such as 'Remember' accurately depicted the tone of the following scenes. In particular, Harim Oh must be singled out for her beautiful soprano tone and subtlety of expression.

The main body of the cast boasted some well-known names in Bristol student theatre. The familiar faces of Letty Thomas (playing Desiree Armfeldt), Misha Patel (playing Fredrik Egerman) and Jamie Budgett (Henrik Egerman) certainly lived up to their reputation by providing highly realistic and, in the case of Budgett, hilarious personalities. Indeed, the cast as a whole was an exceptionally talented group of actors - there was not one who appeared as a weak link, a very rare occurrence in a student piece of drama. Each and every cast member demonstrated vibrancy, flair and sincerity in regards to their own roles but I cannot help but give specific praise to Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm (Ed Richards) for his boisterous but incredibly comical portrayal of a hot-headed, rapier wielding dragoon. In addition to this, the ability of Elle Daniel to turn the minor role of Petra into one of the audience's favourite characters should be applauded; not only was she playful, daring and terribly realistic, but her singing number towards the end of Act Two was captivating with her voice moving effortlessly through the music and her tone telling every inch of her tale.

What was evident, despite the vocal talents displayed throughout the show, was that the directors appear to have picked some of the cast because of their acting merit over their musical ability. Therefore, there were times when the tricky trills and fast tempo of the orchestra - who, by the way, did an exceptional job in performing the difficult, odd sounding music of Stephen Sondheim - slightly overpowered the voices of the actors on stage. However, some part of this may be due to first-night jitters as it must be said that vocal strength grew towards the end of the first half.

Indeed, the most spectacular moment of the show for me was the performance of 'Bring in the Clowns', sung by Letty Thomas. It was so touching, so realistic that it hushed the audience into an awed silence until the music stopped and rapturous applause took over. Praise must be given to Thomas for delivering such an original, extremely moving portrayal of such a well-known musical song. In a production which revolved around the ridiculous relations between men and women, it touched the audience to it's core and added a tone of sincerity and solemness to the tale.

Overall, 'A Little Night Music' was certainly a success. The directing skill of Tom Rawlinson and Issy Inchbald ensured an intelligent, hilarious and vibrant production of a show which demands energetic character portrayals, high vocal ability and a touch of somber realism. A very impressive production by Musical Theatre Bristol.

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Amber Segal

at 11:41 on 6th Dec 2012

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'Don't you love farce?' sings the brilliant Letty Thomas in Stephen Sondheim's 'A little Night Music'. And we do, but Music Theatre Bristol's latest offering is something more than that, despite moments of comic genius. The leads, Thomas as Desiree Armfeldt and Misha Patel as her re-ignited old flame, Frederik Egerman, are understated in comparison to the rest of the cast, which provides a welcome contrast without detracting from the their performances. Although Patel does not have the strongest singing voice, this is not overly problematic for the show as a whole considering the incredibly high standard of the majority of his co-stars. Louise Gellar, playing Frederik's young wife Anne, initially bordered on overacting but any doubts I had vanished as soon as she began a sharp, haunting and perfect rendition of 'Soon'. After this, Geller seemed to relax and develop Anne into a more believable character. Her child-bride dynamic with Frederik is appropriately awkward and disturbing; a striking comparison to Desiree's comfortable wittiness around her former lover, which Thomas deftly demonstrates.

For a script obsessed with sex, the gender politics is approached surprisingly subtly and the humour manages to stay on just the right side of Carry On. It is, in some ways, a turn of the century battle of the sexes and one in which the women definitely triumph, at least in being given more of an internal life than the caricatured men. This emphasis is refreshing to watch. Along with the matriarchy of the Armfeldts- 'Frederika Armfeldt: I'm illegitimate' proudly announces the wise youngster (Amelia Morley) - comes Petra's naughty, ironic solo 'The Miller's Son', stunningly performed by Elle Daniel halfway through the second act. Daniel's partner in comedy is the religiously confused Henrik, played by the consistently hilarious Jamie Budgett.

Considering this is a student production, the cast cope well with the repeated theme of ageing, most notably with the grandmother/mother/daughter that frames the tale. The schoolgirl plaits (Morely) and grey make up (Tess Annan) are merely tokens, as the three women play off each other to successfully embody their characters difference in years.

In such a polished, powerful and well-cast performance, where the peripheral characters have clearly been given as much thought and care as the leads, it is a shame, therefore, that more attention should perhaps have been paid to the lighting which occasionally cast a distracting green glow across their faces.

The talented Liebeslieder Singers work particularly well within the cosy setting of MR5C, as the harmony of their overture floods the crowd. This chorus added an eerie tone by being more Greek chorus than a traditionally light-hearted musical ensemble. Their ending, which may not hold any surprises in terms of plot, leaves the audience with an unexpected note.

The dark and quirky tone of A Little Night Music compliments moments of slapstick, accompanied by beautifully performed melodies that I left the theatre humming. A massively entertaining evening.

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