The National Theatre presents spellbinding revival of James Goldman and Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Follies’, directed by Dominic Cooke. The phrase ‘follies’ derives from producer Florenz Ziegfields’ glamorous revues on Broadway during the early 20th century in which beautiful, young American women were invited to perform in glitzy and skimpy costumes. The legendary Ziegfield is directly present in Goldman’s piece, within the character of old-time producer Dimitri Weismann (Gary Raymond). Now 1971, the Weismann Theatre in New York City is being demolished to make room for office buildings, however one final drama is to be played out before the dilapidated theatre becomes yet another faded memory of the golden times. A stream of beautiful women saunter down the stairs as the original follies reunite for an evening of song, stories and unexpected (or perhaps not) revelations.
Ever-present proud ghosts of the past dress in exquisitely detailed costumes designed, sourced and crafted on-site by a large and highly talented costume team. The young characters watch their futures play out intently as they ponder the path they chose to walk and the opportunities that may have been missed. Through Sondheim’s conversational music, the story focuses on old friends Sally (Imelda Staunton) and Phyllis (Janie Dee) and their husbands Buddy (Peter Forbes) and Ben (Philip Quast) as they revel in the glory days of dancing at Tony’s and courting one another, yet things turn bitter as a tortured and somewhat deluded Sally announces her long-term love for Ben. Each of the principal actors provide stellar performances in their roles as the drama culminates to a stand-off that would please the gods and erupts into the surreal chaos of ‘Buddy’s Folly’, which is quite literally a choreographed panic attack. Sally’s Folly is a much more tender affair, in which Staunton delivers a hypnotic rendition of ‘Losing My Mind’. Additional stand out performances come from Tracie Bennett as Carlotta Campion. Bennett is just a queen, I don’t really have much more to say on that. Zizi Strallen performs gloriously as a Young Phyllis and Jordan Shaw shines in the ensemble.
It is particularly interesting watching this piece with the naivety of a ‘young folly’, as I find myself questioning ‘Why can’t they just do what they want; run away, divorce, marry? Why does age matter?’, but as I watch the older tear-stained couples leave the Olivier Theatre clutching one another I understand that there are some moments within this piece that I just couldn’t possibly comprehend yet. Spectacular in every sense, you must get tickets for this musical. Alas, if you can't make it to the performance, Follies will be broadcast by NT Live to cinemas in the UK and internationally on Thursday 16 November. - Faye Butler