Review: A Little Night Music, Menier Chocolate Factory

Given the name of this blog, I was more than a little excited when the Menier Chocolate Factory announced their Christmas show as Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music for, in case you do not know, ‘There Ought To Be Clowns’ is a lyric from the most well-known song from this musical, ‘Send in the Clowns’. It is based on Ingrid Bergman’s film Smiles of a Summer Night and with a score almost entirely written in waltz time, it is a coolly Scandinavian intellectual and detached look at romance.

Middle-aged Frederik has married Anna, his 18-year-old neighbour, and she is having difficulty with consummating the marriage. At the same time, Frederik’s son Heinrik is studying to become a minister yet lusts after Anna, who is younger than he is. When one of Heinrik’s old flames, a touring actress, returns to town with a jealous Brigadier-General (inconveniently married to one of Anna’s friends) as her current on-again off-again lover, the set of romantic relationships readjust and realign to potentially better suited pairings over a weekend in the country.

Sondheim’s lyrics are generally very witty and incisive, as one would expect, but it is quite a slow-paced production and somewhat cerebral so that it didn’t really move me emotionally but rather provoked a sense of admiration at the quality on show. Trevor Nunn’s direction allows for a more intimate approach which suits the small stage of the Menier and David Farley’s set uses a set of movable doors to suggest a wide range of locations and an effective evocation of greater space.

Hannah Waddingham feels a little young to be considering herself so far over the hill although it could be an interpretation of her vanity I suppose, but her delivery of ‘Send in the Clowns’ was simply stunning and practically worth the ticket price alone. Interpretations of this song tend to either fall into the lyrical, which suits actresses without the strongest of voices or more musical, with the focus mainly on the singing, the beauty of casting Waddingham, an actress who really can act but is also an excellent musical theatre singer and so could combine these talents to really breathe a new life and thoughtfulness into this standard.

Maureen Lipman is brilliantly acerbic, Kaisa Hammarlund is delightful as the flirty maid, Alexander Hanson brings a selflessness to the portrayal of his lawyer and Alistair Robins and Kelly Price also impressed in their roles. I wasn’t keen on Jessie Buckley’s young bride, she doesn’t yet have the natural ease needed for a performer but perhaps this will come as the run progresses.

So all in all a strong production which plays to Sondheim’s strengths of intellectual musical discourse but I could have done with a little more emotion to keep me fully invested in the proceedings of all of these characters. But with Hannah Waddingham’s delivery of that wonderful song, tears were brought to the eyes of this clown and so I cannot but recommend this to you.

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