Review: Follies 2019, National Theatre

The Olivier Award-winning Follies returns to the National Theatre in richer, deeper, more resonant form and just blows me away

“It’s the cat’s pyjamas”

Like the ghosts of their younger selves that haunt the characters in Follies so beautifully in this production, for those who were lucky enough to catch its superlative Olivier Award-winning 2017 run, so too do our memories interplay with what we’re seeing, inducing some soul-shiveringly exceptional moments that are almost metatheatrical in the feelings they provoke. 

The tingle of anticipation is never far away but the show somehow feels richer, deeper, more resonant in the note of melancholy it strikes as it exposes nostalgia for the rose-tinted self-delusion it so often becomes. Janie Dee’s Phyllis somehow feels more desolate, especially in her bitterly brilliant ‘Could I Leave You’; Tracie Bennett scorches the roof once more in ‘I’m Still Here’ in what feels like a more internal performance now; we’re all at least a year older…

Dominic Cooke’s revival returns to the Olivier stage partially recast. The young leads are all new, Claire Moore is now Hattie and soars in a wonderfully powerful ‘Broadway Baby’, Alexander Hanson is in for Philip Quast as Ben and most thrillingly of all, Joanna Riding takes over the role of Sally from Imelda Staunton. Hers is a completely fresh take, less overtly intense and so more connected to her surroundings, which only makes her tragedies more profound as her fantasies are crushed by man after man. 

She also excels in her pill-popping ‘Losing My Mind’, toying with word rhythms and pacing so it becomes something of a stream-of-consciousness outpouring, profound and just perfect. And perfect is the word for just so much of the work here: Vicki Mortimer’s elegantly decrepit set and frou-frou-fabulous costumes; Bill Deamer’s choreography, never better than in the iconic ‘Who’s That Woman?’ sequence led by Dawn Hope’s Stella; Nigel Lilley’s musical direction and particularly his enthusiastic brass section. 

And then there’s ‘One More Kiss’ which is somehow more showstoppingly exquisite than before. Dame Josephine Barstow originated the role of Heidi in this revival but won’t be joining this run until 6th May, Dame Felicity Lott taking over in the meantime. Lott’s indisposition tonight though meant that we were graced with a special appearance from Barstow and her duet with her younger self (Alison Langer) is a moment of pure, crystalline grace. I wept more in this song than I did in the entirety of Come From Away, each to their own eh?!  

A simply outstanding piece of musical theatre, Follies richly repays re-viewing.

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Johan Persson
Follies is booking at the National Theatre until 11th May


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