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A Little Night Music review at Menier London

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In 19th century Sweden, an actress decides to settle down with the lawyer she once had an affair with. Unfortunately their intimacy is complicated by his new young bride and her own arrogant lover.

Sondheim’s musical is based on Ingmar Bergman’s film Smiles of a Summer Night, although Hugh Wheeler’s excellent book sounds decidedly more East Side Manhattan than it does West Stockholm. It is to the source work that director Trevor Nunn has returned for inspiration here.

Sex is a vital theme to the success of this musical as it is constantly alluded to in dialogue and song. A director should ignore this at his peril and thankfully Nunn has embraced sex – desired, frustrated and achieved – as the real colour palette of the show, brilliantly set off against the muted plaintiff tones of David Farley’s set and costumes.

Nunn has put together a wonderful ensemble cast led by an immaculate performance from Hannah Waddingham as Desiree Armfeldt. Finally, here is a Desiree that can set men’s hearts racing and yet still break all our hearts with her soulful lament, Send in the Clowns. Alexander Hanson too is superb as Frederik, the stuffy, middle-aged lawyer with the child bride. Maureen Lipman adds her own special brand of hauteur to the role of Madame Armfeldt, the retired courtesan.

Jessie Buckley may have lost out as Nancy but here, as Anne, she is excellent in her first professional role opposite a heroically serious Gabriel Vick as a frustrated Henrik.

The inclusion of the number Silly People is a mistake that adds nothing to the show except length. Otherwise, A Little Night Music can be considered yet another jewel in the Menier’s decidedly glittering crown, offering those weary of these December blues a reason to smile on a winter’s night.

Production Information

Menier, London, December 3-March 8

Hugh Wheeler (book), Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics)
Trevor Nunn
David Babani
Alexander Hanson, Hannah Waddingham, Jessie Buckley, Gabriel Vick, Maureen Lipman, Kaisa Hammarlund, Grace Link
Running time

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