Sondheim’s most famous flop,
If you can stick with the slow pace until the penultimate scene of the second act this production does eventually pay dividends.
The retrogressive nature of the piece is often cited as the reason for its failure. Audiences have to work harder to follow a plot where the outcome of an action comes before the setup. But this also gives rewards for the attentive, not only in the narrative but in the musical clues that Sondheim cleverly plants to get around the tricky problem of playing a reprise before you’ve heard the song.
In the role of Franklin Shephard, Guy Clayson has the appropriate leading-man good looks and a very pleasant tone, but he’s a bit stiff and could benefit from not staring into the middle distance over our heads. His musical partner Charley Kringas is played by Ruari Paterson-Achenbach who also has fine vocals, but the performance can be a little tight so he needs to relax. Poppy Cracknell in the role of lifelong-friend Mary Flynn for the most part nails it apart from slightly unconvincing drunk acting right at the top of the show. Overall musically it’s beautiful, but the acting is a tad iffy.
The staging is black box with gleaming white set and props, which is strangely effective given the time period we’re traversing. Choreography is mostly pedestrian, but with the occasional highlight when they stumble into a big number. One small quibble was the distraction of the background action. They’d freeze when a song was going on, but be just a little too committed to a non-speaking role when someone else was carrying the dialog. Several times I found myself watching someone miming a scene rather than listening to what was going on downstage.
This Eltham College production seems to follow the 1994 Broadway revival for the first half, with some major cuts to the second act. Even with those cuts, it still comes in at nearly two hours without an interval. Quite an ask for a Fringe audience. If you can stick with the slow pace until the penultimate scene of the second act this production does eventually pay dividends. Opening Doors and the finale of Our Time is a sea change in the velocity of this show. What had been pretty heavy going up until that point picked up and made a triumphant break for the final curtain.