Follies, National Theatre, Southbank, London.

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Follies is probably Sondheim’s most traditional musical, in that it has set pieces, dance routines, show girls and, separate songs that don’t bleed into each other. However, it is still complex; the story has great depth and some of the songs are operatic in nature.

It is expensive and complicated to produce, it has a large company, with demanding roles throughout the cast. It needs an orchestra. Full productions of Follies are rare, the last proper one in London was thirty years ago, so when there is a high quality, committed revival such as this on offer, the opportunity needs to be grabbed.

It’s Sondheim, so the material is fantastic. It has some of his most famous songs, the storyline is elegant, and it is almost upbeat for Sondheim, (that means everyone in the cast isn’t going to live out the rest of their lives in abject misery!). It’s the National Theatre, so the production values are top notch. Dominic Cooke and Bill Deamer as director and choreographer have both done a wonderful job. I particularly loved the way each dancer at the reunion had their younger version dancing with them. I also loved the way all the mature dancers paraded down the stairs in a dignified manner wearing evening gowns, while their younger incarnations scrambled in over the rubble at the back of the stage, in their high heels, basques and feathers.

Imelda Staunton, Janie Dee, Philip Quast and Peter Forbes are the four leads, so the acting and singing are outstanding. Imelda Staunton does an emotionally draining rendition of “Losing My Mind” and Philip Quast’s voice is as amazing as it always is. It has Tracie Bennett and Geraldine Fitzgerald in supporting roles so it has incredible strength in depth. Tracie Bennett is in full on scene stealing mode with “I’m Still Here” sung with a mixture of pain and defiance.

Follies at the National Theatre is fantastic, and given all the elements that went into making it, there was never any doubt that it would be.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Harold Pinter Theatre, 2017

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Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf perfectly illustrates the difference between the questions “Was it good?” and “Did you enjoy it?”
This is a fantastic play, and a wonderful production of it. The acting was immense from all four characters. Imelda Staunton was as brilliant as you would expect, there is nobody better at making you understand the frailty of a dark, flawed individual, and she can change from a vicious harridan to a seductive, provocative vamp in the blink of an eye.  Conleth Hill was a revelation, he lives that part – how he can keep up that intensity for three hours per performance is incredible.
The direction is sparse, keeping you focussed on the people and the set is simple but effective. Three hours is long for such heightened emotions but the time flew by because of the compelling nature of the character interaction. However, it is comparable to watching a car crash in slow motion because, the farther you move into the play, the stronger the realisation becomes – that there can be no happy conclusion here. The only option is to sit and watch in morbid fascination, to see just how bad the casualties will be.
So, I did not enjoy it very much, it wasn’t written for enjoyment, but this does not prevent it being one of the best plays on in London at the moment.
The audience really appreciated their effort, it is a rare thing these days to see the whole audience stand in ovation from curtain down, but they did here, and this was truly deserved.
If you get the opportunity to see this production, I recommend that you gird your loins, prepare yourself mentally, but definitely go.