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Gone with the Wind review at New London Theatre London

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Trevor Nunn famously helped the British musical to go in a brand new direction when he directed Cats that ran at the New London Theatre for 21 years.

Now he returns to the same address – and with the same designer John Napier – to turn back the clock on some of the advances in musical theatre that he initiated, offering this utterly stillborn, reductive translation of an epic novel Gone with the Wind that turns out to be a resolutely old-fashioned piece of narrative theatrical staging.

But Nunn, obviously aware of the benefits of copying from the best, has at least plagiarised himself and applied the same storytelling techniques that he used to bring Nicholas Nickleby to the stage (on that occasion with writer David Edgar, but this time adapting Margaret Martin’s version of Margaret Mitchell’s novel himself), with actors constantly stepping out of the action to provide a running narration. However, whereas the Dickens was allowed the luxury to breathe in a two-part, seven-hour epic, this time it has been fatally condensed.

Though Nunn brings his customary sense of kaleidoscopic, framing detail, he cannot harness the dense, hurtling narrative into a compelling drama – history may be one damn thing after another, and so eventually is this southern American civil war drama that follows a feisty heroine, Scarlett O’Hara, across 12 years of turbulent personal and political upheaval.

Disastrously, however, it is simultaneously so rushed and laboured that it fails to provide any emotional connection with its characters, who fail to emerge with any personality. While songs can provide a useful way of telescoping emotion and offering a chance to explore characters’ inner lives, Martin’s songs here are earnest, aural wallpaper and merely seem to stop the action instead of advancing or intensifying it.

The actors are left trying to dramatise a constant parade of incident, instead of being able to interpret their place in it. Jill Paice’s Scarlett is kept busiest of all, and though she keeps her resilient character’s spirits up even as she indomitably faces war and famine (and even turns into a musical Mother Courage, wheeling a cart back to her beloved Tara), there’s not much of a spark in her engagement with the wooden Rhett Butler of Darius Danesh.

There’s not much more fire even in the legendary burning of Atlanta, represented here by a briefly smouldering flag and some collapsing flats on the upper level of John Napier’s set. But this numbing musical has already collapsed in on itself long before then, anyway, marooned in a no-man’s land of generic melodies and leaden, unconvincing drama.

Production Information

New London Theatre, London, April 22-September 27

Author
Margaret Mitchell (book and lyrics
Director
Trevor Nunn
Producers
Aldo Scrofani, Colin Ingram, Gary McAvay, Nederlander Presentations Inc, Peter Kane
Cast includes
Jill Paice, Darius Danesh, Edward Baker-Duly, Natasha Yvette Williams
Running time
3hrs 30mins
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