A timelessly tragic story of reminiscence and regret, The National Theatre’s Follies maintains it’s exquisite excellence as it transcends Stephen Sondheim’s spectacular music into a revitalised production that is even more spectacular than ever before. With thirty years passing since the last fully staged production of Follies in London, it still manages to shine, retaining its place as one of the best pieces of musical theatre ever created.
The evening before the Weismann Theatre on Broadway is about to be demolished, the Follies that performed at the theatre throughout the years are invited back for a grand evening of celebration, which reunites elegant couple Ben and Phyllis with their old friends Sally and Buddy. This resurfaces Sally’s love for Phyllis’ husband Ben and we are enthralled in their previous love story and current conflict as the musical interweaves between the past and present.
Imelda Staunton’s performance as Sally is as expected, nothing less than flawless. Her first-class acting presents faultless characterisation that captures both the intensity of her emotions and her infectious charm, which is exquisitely portrayed in her heartbreaking number Losing My Mind. This harrowing emotion is mirrored in Philip Quast’s depiction of Ben. We witness the character deteriorating before our eyes and Quast crafts this deterioration superbly. Peter Forbes’s Buddy brings some light to the production with his torn personality between the breakdown of his marriage and his optimism for the future, which is evident through the electric energy he provides in his charismatic performance of Buddy’s Blues.
Whilst Sally and Buddy chose a quiet life, Phyllis and Ben have become rather high profile. Janie Dee masters the role of Phyliss, as she effortlessly encapsulates her confident sophistication. She’s straightforward with her quick-witted put-downs, enhancing her higher status. Despite her personality, she is entirely likeable and gives a stellar performance bursting with sass in Could I Leave You, contrasting with her beautifully sultry rendition of The Story of Lucy and Jessie – showing her astounding versatility in the role.
Revisiting a chapter in their lives, Sally, Phyliss and the other Follies are shadowed by their ghosts throughout the production. Alex Young as young Sally and Zizi Strallen as young Phyllis exude the playful youth of the beautiful characters whilst also reflecting their angst and heartbreak. When Imelda and Janie watch their younger selves, they prove to be highly poignant moments in the show. Dominic Cooke has directed the ghosts excellently into the piece, as their presence bears a weight on the narrative. Bill Deamer’s profound choreography is stunning, particularly the seamless transitions between the Follies and their ghosts in Mirror Mirror.
The remarkably designed set using the exposed brick walls of the falling down theatre with splashes of sparkle of glamour amplify the timelessness of the legendary production. The National Theatre’s Follies is an unforgettable masterclass in musical theatre.
On until the 3rd of January, tickets can be found here.