Posts Tagged ‘The Dreaming’

National Youth Music Theatre UK have been extraordinarily ambitious in recent years – two new shows, The Battle of Boat and Brass, Howard Goodall’s The Dreaming & The Hired Man, Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd and now this second Sondheim, which may well be the biggest mountain they’ve chosen to climb; it’s difficulty may be why it has only been revived twice (Leicester Haymarket and Menier to West End to Broadway) since it’s NT UK premiere 27 years ago. To say they have risen to the challenge would be an understatement. There were times when I could hardly believe what I was seeing and hearing from an amateur company and the song Sunday has been on permanent loop in my head since I left the theatre.

The only musical based on a painting is in two very different parts. In the first, Georges Seurat is painting on the Island of La Grande Jatte in the River Seine in Paris, where we are introduced to his muse Dot, his mother and her nurse and the other characters in the famous painting now in the Art Institute of Chicago – including shop girls, soldiers, an American couple, another artist, a baker and a boatman. In the second half we zip forward to contemporary times, to the gallery where the painting resides, where Seurat’s grandson George is unveiling his new work with his grandmother, the daughter of Seurat’s muse, in attendance. I consider it Sondheim’s most challenging piece.

The very effective design consists of a picture frame backdrop and nine easels, with excellent period costumes. In the first half, the easels contain canvas sketches of parts of the picture and in the second half they become the illuminated modern work. It’s a small space which sometimes feels a touch cramped but the staging is very good. Sunday, which ends the first half, was staged and performed with such delicacy, restraint and beauty it quite took my breath away. The contemporary gallery scene somehow felt more effective than I remember it being staged before. The segue from Move On into the reprise of Sunday at the end was an uplifting emotional wave.

After a tentative start, the band played beautifully. The ensemble was outstanding, and the two leads – Thomas Josling as Georges / George and Laura Barnard as Dot / Marie – were simply sensational. Two stars are born, I’d say.

Great to see it again after a ten year famine, and great to report that the future of musical theatre in Britain is safe in these hands. The audience, quite rightly, erupted.

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Howard Goodall & Charles Hart made a great job, back in 2001, of adapting Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream as a musical for National Youth Music Theatre. It was one of the first things I saw in the (then new) Linbury Studio Theatre at the ROH. This is the second outing of the second (2012) revival, now at The Rose Theatre in Kingston – a space which suits it very well indeed.

It’s set in 1914 in Somerset, on midsummer’s night (obviously!), which was just over a month before the outbreak of the First World War. The royals are the local nobility, the fairies are the woodlanders, the mechanicals are the village mummer’s group led by the vicar and Puck is the blacksmith’s boy. The lover’s story is the same and the mummer’s perform The Ballad of St. George.

It’s a nice score, though without the emotional sweep and soaring melodies of other Goodall works; perhaps a simpler score for young people? Charles Hart’s modern dialogue book and lyrics tell the story well and the luxury of 26 woodlanders pays off. This production seems to concentrate on the acting, movement and comedy at the expense of the music, which I felt was much weaker than when I first saw it.

It was the first night of this short 3-performance run so it wasn’t perhaps as slick as it will be by the third. Playing to a primarily young audience also brought with it the now expected challenges of chatter, rustling and texting which may well have contributed to some disappointment on my part.

It would be interesting to see a professional company produce this, though the cast of 41 and band of 12 would no doubt have to be scaled down. Go on, someone, have a go!


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