08 March 2018

Review: A Little Night Music

A Little Night Music
Watch This

1 March 2018
The National Thearte
to 3 March

A Little Night Music. Nadine Garner & JOhn O'May. Photo by Jodi Hutchison

Independent company Watch This are working their way though all the Sondheim musicals for us and if they could get some more financial support – musicals are expensive to put on – they'd be able to do them all and start again. We're not going stop wanting to see Sondheim shows. The only thing holding this company back is resources.

A Little Night Music had a very short run in Geelong and the so-gorgeous 1920s National Theatre in St Kilda, and finishes this weekend with a sold-out run at the Whitehouse Centre in Nunawading. How exciting to see shows moving out of the inner-city circle of theatres and reaching new audiences.

Nadine Garner's role defining performance as Desiree – "Send in the Clowns" – is unforgettable. She captures being middle aged and beginning to fade into invisibility, but still feeling 20 and searching for a slither hope in the jaded outlook she's developed to cope. Combined with exceptional musical direction and vocals, it's a production that should be welcomed back, after some time and development

Inspired by an Ingmar Bergman film, A Little Night Music opened on Broadway in 1973 and won Tonys. Set in Sweden in a summer where the sun doesn't set and offer the relief and darkness of night, it's about the frustration and infuriation of love, sex and relationships – "love's disgusting, love's insane".

If you've seen, or are planning to see, the utterly exquisite National Theatre production of Follies, that still has some screenings at the Nova, Sondheim wrote A Little Night Music after Follies. Both have incredible roles for women, especially older women, and relationships – sexual, romantic and familial –  that are so complex that multiple viewings only reveal more complexity.

Music director Daniele Buatti creates a strong layered sound from the orchestra of five (despite having a problematic sound mix in the National) and lets individual voices shine and bring their own twist and sound to the music. How good would it be if they had the resources to record?

But there's a gap between the music and the direction and characters. The direction moves people around the large stage more than letting the relationships between characters control the action. While each performer brings originality and understanding, especially in the songs, the characters, and the world they are in, aren't consistent. The relationship space between them isn't filled with subtext and all the contradictory feelings that they don't tell each other; it's confusing to desperately want to shag someone you hate, or maybe love, or should never even think about.

And this is where support and money is so needed. There's too much amazing work in this production to focus on the elements that distract because they were limited.

The design suffered from feeling a bit too "community theatre" – and could have been more neutral than Spotlight bargain – but this show needs time in the rehearsal room to develop consistency and the tension that lets the audience get drawn into the world and question if what they see is what's actually going in.

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