A Little Night Music – Review – Leeds Playhouse
By Sandra Callard, July 2021
At last the wait is over, theatre is coming alive again, and A Little Night Music by Stephen Sondheim is on at Leeds Playhouse. Set in some undisclosed European country with a German twist, this lighthearted operetta had a large and talented cast.
The stage setting varied between bedrooms, outdoor picnics areas, the interior of large houses and various others, the progress of which was performed with skill and speed, as the same set of furniture happily became the property of another set of people. Sondheim’s best known work is slightly tongue-in-cheek, slightly funny, but massively wonderful musically. The show was blessed in having a huge orchestra whose presence absolutely made all the difference to the show. It soared and dipped magnificently, with teasing treats of bits of Sondheim’s songs that made it truly the star of the show.
The weak story of multiple changes of affection amongst the couples in the cast was somewhat tiring, with little strength to hold the attention, but the singers were superb. It was good to see some of the singers who were not the main protagonists on stage having their chance in the limelight with a good selection of music and song given them. There were also some very creditable slap-stick scenes which brought a smile to the face.
The show itself is one of the longer ones as far as musicals go, but the brilliant singing and the bouts of comical archaic speech, and certainly the orchestra, filled the time adequately.
The elderly duchess in a wheelchair was superb. She did not sing but her witticism and her alarming put-downs of almost everyone on stage were perfectly executed. Did she mould herself on the wonderful long-ago speeches of Oscar Wilde that made people love and loathe him in equal measure, because if so she made a good job of it.
The second half started to pall on me, and I began to long for the inevitable singing of Sondheim’s greatest hits, ‘Send in the Clowns’ and ‘Now You Know’, two of the loveliest and most emotional songs ever written. But, sin of sins, they never came! ‘Clowns’ was referred to in some passing words and ‘Now You Know’ in a few throwaway notes, so insignificant that I can’t remember who murmured them. This surely was sacrilege.
I left the show feeling that I had somehow bypassed the enormous talent on stage, and I just had an overpowering sense of a time out of date and a production that is lost in a modern world. I felt I’d seen a production that did not take advantage of Sondheim’s talent but which was salvaged by a magnificent orchestra whose overture itself was worth the journey.
images: Sharron Wallace