Follies @ National Theatre

Cast includes Imelda Staunton, Janie Dee and Tracie Simpson

Running Time: 2 hours 10 mins, no interval

One of Stephen Sondheim’s less revived works, Follies has been brought back to London by the National in its full form (with no interval as Sondheim intended), with a cast of 37 and an orchestra of 21.

The piece focusses on the reunion of Weismann’s Follies (who are obviously based on the Ziegfeld Follies of the early 20th Century) and has a less clearly linear narrative than some of Sondheim’s other works, such as Into the Woods or Sweeney Todd. The main dramatic core of the piece focusses on Sally, played by Staunton, who is still in love with Ben (Philip Quast) and on their spouses Buddy (Peter Forbes) and Phyllis (Janie Dee). The piece tackles the ideas of disappointment with life, the obsession and neurosis of Sally and the follies of the past that come back to haunt the characters.

The lack of an interval is an interesting artistic decision – this is a long piece that can mean that comfort is sacrificed. However, the piece is probably stronger without one, especially as the piece (and the characters in many respects) start to spin off from reality in the latter part of the piece. The piece benefits from a great score from Sondheim, and while some of the songs are less known than numbers from Sweeney, Into the Woods or even Company, there are still some gems like ‘Could I Leave You?’, a truly clever song that inverts the expected meaning of the phrase.

The cast for this revival are also top notch. Staunton is great casting as Sally, and whilst possibly not matching her turn as Mama Rose she is still amazing and clearly at the top of her game. Her version of ‘Losing My Mind’ is particularly note-worthy and highly emotional. Janie Dee is also good as Phyllis especially in her scenes with Philip Quast as Ben – their chemistry is good, especially in songs such as ‘Leave You’. Tracie Simpson is also of note with her rendition of the iconic song ‘I’m Still Here’.

The set for the piece is suitably lavish, and it feels like no expense has been spared – the Olivier Stage is also well-peopled by cast, and feel an appropriate scale.

Summary: A lavish production of this less revived Sondheim show. Great cast and music combine to create a winner. ****

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