The Chichester dream team of director Jonathan Kent and most of the creative back-up including the same musical director, designer, sound, lighting and casting director who brought Sweeney Todd to an Olivier award-winning triumph two years ago are reunited, along with star Imelda Staunton, for Gypsy.
And they pull off an arguably even greater triumph – for whereas Sweeney Todd is now a deeply familiar masterpiece (seen in London in two recent productions in the last month alone), Gypsy hasn’t been seen in the West End for more than 40 years – neglected, I suspect, because people think it is dated. Yet it emerges here in a pitch-perfect period production, as a startling modern masterpiece about the dire personal need and ambitions of a mother who channels her own career disappointment – she was, she says, born too soon and started too late – through her daughters.
It may be a cautionary showbiz tale, but as played here with ferocious intelligence, wit and a disturbing sense of desperation and vulnerability by Staunton, Momma Rose is a force of nature even if she doesn’t have an ounce of nurture in her mothering skills. It’s all about Rose: “What I got in me, what I been holding down inside of me, if I ever let it go, there wouldn’t have been signs big enough,” she says with an excruciating self-realisation at the climax of the show.
And it’s true. There are no signs (or sentences) big enough to encompass the sheer magnitude of this shattering performance. But neither is this a one-woman show here – she has been surrounded by a stunning ensemble, including beautiful, fragile performances from Lara Pulver and Gemma Sutton as her daughters, Peter Davison as the patiently devoted Herbie, and a magnificent trio of jaded, down-at-heel strippers played by Julie Legrand, Louise Gold and Anita Louise Combe.