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Follies review at National Theatre, London – ‘still glorious’

Joanna Riding in Follies at National Theatre, London. Photo: Johan Persson

Returning for a second run at the National Theatre, Dominic Cooke’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s masterpiece of yearning and dashed dreams remains glorious.

Taking over from Imelda Staunton, Joanna Riding slips effortlessly into the role of Sally.  The case could be made that she’s an even better fit for the part; initially perky and bright, the depth of her sadness gradually becomes apparent and her delivery of Losing My Mind is not merely heart-breaking, but heart-destroying; as her mascara bleeds down her cheeks, it undoes you completely.

Alexander Hanson, also new to the cast, is an excellent Ben. He doesn’t have Philip Quast’s vocal chops, but in the end it doesn’t matter as, again and again, he nails the emotional complexity of the character. Ben is a man in the grip of a marital crisis and a crisis of life; by the end he’s utterly desolate.

Ultimately, the show still belongs to the women. Janie Dee’s Phyllis is incredibly good, brittle and prickly, life-hardened but with a lot of life left to live. Her awareness of that paradox, that she has so much and yet so little time left to her, is palpable.

Cooke’s staging remains one of the most impressive things to have graced the Olivier for some time, making full use of the depth and height of the space; the production as a whole is a majestic undertaking, haunting, emotionally textured and impeccably designed by Vicky Mortimer, and lit, by Paule Constable; bleak, but brilliant.


Follies’ Joanna Riding: ‘Imelda Staunton has left big shoes to fill, even if they contained little feet’

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Joanna Riding gives an extraordinarily powerful performance in Sondheim's musical of nostalgia, regret and yearning