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posted/updated: 03 Oct 2011 -
A Little Night Music
Stephen Sondheim & Hugh Wheeler
society/company: PH Productions
performance date: 02 Sep 2011
venue: Yvonne Arnaud, Guildford
reviewer/s: Musical Theatre Princess (Sardines Review)

PH Productions of A Little Night Music was hailed as the first amateur show to grace the Yvonne Arnaud stage for many years. However, there was nothing amateur about this show!
A Little Night Music is based on Ingmar Bergman's film, Smiles of a Summer Night, and is a witty musical set in waltz time. The action takes place in a weekend country house in turn-of-the-century Sweden, where surprising liaisons, long-simmering passions and a taste of love’s endless possibilities are all brought to light. Featuring the well known songs Send in the Clowns, A Weekend in the Country and Everyday a Little Death.

This same production was played last year in ‘The Mill Studio’ to sell out audiences and even in the confines of such a small space it was clear to see the production was of a very high standard. The costumes were completely of the period as was the simple but effective set. I was pleased to hear that it had been so well received that the company had been asked to resurrect it for a showing in the main theatre.

Often is the case with Sondheim, I do believe that it worked much better in the larger space. As an audience member you had much better perspective and for such a small cast they made a large sound which I didn’t really appreciate when I saw the production in the studio space.

I found the aesthetics of this production particularly pleasing – the costumes were perfect and one moment which made an impact was when the entire cast were dressed in white for the opening scene of Act 2, in the country. Every character was perfectly costumed, down to the smallest detail of gloves and jewellery, which can so often be missed. The set remained almost identical to the one used in the last production and was just as effective, with long white rotating panels which were moved by the cast to create windows, doors and entrances for the characters to move around in. There were also long swathes of white material lowered to create a soft curtain effect and to my mind added extra texture to the scenes.

There is a general feeling in amateur theatre that the Chorus are at the bottom of the pecking order, well i’m happy to say that in this production there were scenes were they outshone the principals. Each member of the chorus had a solo line and their own character and more importantly moved as one. They carry the story along, almost like a Greek chorus and are integral to the telling of the story. Their voices were strong, their dancing agile and their timing was impeccable.

Playing the leads were Darren Street as Fredrik Egerman and Pippa Winslow-Rolandelli as Desiree Armfeldt. There are no words to describe how beautiful the scenes were between these two accomplished actors. Mr Street gave a wonderfully assured performance with moments of great comedy and robustness. His voice was impeccable and he looked every inch the part. His scenes with his wife Anne were superb. His frustrations at having a teen bride were fabulously depicted both in song and body where it was clear that he simply wanted to be loved by her emotionally and physically. Ms Winslow-Rolandelli was a delight to watch. Her voice was like chocolate her demeanour was cool and calm, which worked well in comparison to the up-tightness of Mr Street’s Fredrik. She owned the stage and I must make particular mention of the scene where she artfully delivered ‘Send In The Clowns’ it was heartfelt and extremely emotional.

There were other very good performances, some to note are: Joe Vetch who played the sexually frustrated Henrick Egerman, his scenes with saucy house-maid Petra were hilarious and very well timed. Amy Hamlin who played the wonderfully virtuous teen wife of Fredrick, Anne, were joyous. She sang beautifully and brought a great energy to all the scenes she was in. It’s very hard to realistically play someone so young and naive but she did so with great conviction. Hilary Harwood as Madame Armfeldt was truly brilliant – her comic timing was second to none and her relationship with her granddaughter, Fredrika, played by Grace Newey was exquisite.

For me there was one performance which really made me smile, that was the part of Petra played by Jenny Moon-Shaw. She completely, irrevocably and without question embodied her character. She was sexual and sensuous, yet vulnerable when it was needed. Her voice was perfectly husky and enticing and her singing made you sit up and watch. Miss Moon-Shaw is a great comedy actress and when she graces the stage all eyes are on her (and lets face it, why not? She’s beautiful too). She really was the gem in this production

All in all A Little Night Music was a tour de force and complete triumph, the standing ovation was well deserved. The Director, MD and Choreographer should all pat themselves on the back for putting together such an imaginative and successful show.
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