A Little Night Music

Posted on: 30 April 2009 by Gareth Hargreaves

Laurence Green reviews Stephen Sondheim’s musical A Little Night Music at the Garrick Theatre.

A witty and stylish celebration of romance is how you could describe Stephen Sondheim’s musical A Little Night Music which has been revived in an exquisite new production directed by Trevor Nunn that has transferred from the Menier Chocolate Factory to the Garrick Theatre in the West End.

Set in Sweden at the end of the 19th century, the story centres on the elegant actress Desirée Armfeldt and the spider’s web of sensuality, intrigue and passion that surrounds her, in particular her many admirers, none more so than her ex-flame, the middle-aged lawyer Frederik Egerman who just can’t keep away from her. 

Frederik, however, has an unconsummated marriage to an 18-year-old, and a son who is studying to be a church minister.  When Desirée’s haughty, wheel-chaired mother invites Frederik and his family for a weekend in the country, Desirée’s latest lover, a dim-witted count and his wife drop in, and, with Frederik’s wife finding out about her husband’s infidelity, the scene looks all set for trouble.

Adapted from the 1956 Ingmar Bergman film Smiles of a Summer Night, this is a work which transfers smoothly from screen to stage and as a study of mismatched couples it is both amusing and sophisticated, combining midsummer magic and melancholy with a sense of impending mortality. 

This is perfectly captured in Sondheim’s beautiful score, whose best known song, the rueful and biting ‘Send in the Clowns’ has become a firm favourite in many leading singer’s repertoires.  Unlike many musicals the songs here serve to illuminate character and are intrinsic to the plot, rather than acting as a sort of stop-go mechanism.

Nunn draws splendid performances from his top drawer cast, notably Hannah Waddingham as Desirée Armfeldt, Alexander Hanson as Frederik the man stricken by her, Jessie Buckley as his teenage wife and Gabriel Vick as his son.  But best of all is Maureen Lipman as Madame Armfeldt, a woman well versed in affairs of the heart and all too ready to impart her worldly wisdom to others.  Truly a night of enchantment!

By Laurence Green

Where: Garrick Theatre

Box Office: 0844 412 4662.

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