Royal & Derngate (Royal Theatre), Northampton (UK) • 4 November 2006 • 7:45pm

Music & lyrics: Stephen Sondheim. Book: James Goldman.
Director: Laurie Sansom. Musical Director: Jonathan Gill. Choreographer: Nick Winston. With Louise Plowright (Phyllis), Julian Forsyth (Ben), Jan Hartley (Sally), Alex Giannini (Buddy), …

The Royal & Derngate has chosen to stage Follies to celebrate its reopening after a thorough refurbishment. The Royal Theatre and the Derngate Auditorium are now linked by a spacious and well-designed lobby, and both auditoria have been completely renovated. The Royal Theatre is spectacular: a gem of a Victorian theatre restored to its original glory.

I have seen several productions of Follies over the years, and each of them seemed to bring fresh ideas to the show. The much-publicised characteristic of this production is the use of local amateur performers for the string of secondary roles, which works really well. The real strong point of this version, however, is a strong directorial work on how the ghosts of the past should interact with their older selves. There’s even an extra character: Young Dimitri Weissman!

The quartet of leading performers is outstanding. I was most impressed by Louise Plowright’s Phyllis and by Julian Forsyth’s Ben. “The Story of Lucy and Jessie” and “Live, Laugh, Love” were absolutely remarkable. Too bad the choreographer decided that Phyllis should be replaced by her younger self for most of the song’s dance section. I thought Sally and Buddy were very good, too… except that Jan Hartley added a most unbecoming high note at the end of “Losing My Mind.”

As for the music, well, the trumpet player took a long time to warm up, which resulted in a somewhat disappointing orchestral performance at the beginning of the show. But things got better after a while.

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