Chichester Festival Theatre Until September 7, 2hrs 35mins
From the opening bars of Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin’, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s wagon- load of songs – which far surpass the actual story – have a sunshine effect on any audience.
The last Chichester outing for this show, ten years ago, had no rhythm under its Stetson. This has. But it’s also got a darker edge, which is welcome. On a bad night, Oklahoma!’s nostalgia and relentless optimism can make you want to strangle puppies.
The star here is not Josie Lawrence’s rifle-toting turn as Aunt Eller. It’s the more sinister figure of Jud Fry – a psychopath holed up in a boxcar shack with dirty postcards on the walls, dreaming fetid dreams of farm girl Laurey.
His rival for her hand is the wholesome-hearted cowboy Curly.
The wholesome-hearted Curly who’s endearingly played by whip-thin newcomer Hyoie O’Grady sits alongside Josie Lawrence’s rifle-toting Aunt Eller
Jud is played by Emmanuel Kojo – a brilliant young singer whose ethnic presence reminds you that Oklahoma! is a happy vacuum in which no one seems even remotely aware of the brutal realities of the American Midwest in 1906.
‘We know we belong to the land/ And the land we belong to is grand! …’ they all sing. But whose land was it, you wonder.
Also, I’ve never seen a better working of the duet Pore Jud Is Daid, in which Curly invites the addled farmhand to commit suicide. There’s a whiff of the Ku Klux Klan about it.
Bronté Barbé plays Ado Annie, whose song I Cain’t Say No is funny and bonkers and Scott Karim lends his tall, powerful presence to the Persian peddler Ali Hakim
In all other respects, Jeremy Sams’s production comes across as it should – a harmonic, happy breeze with an insane amount of dancing. The original Agnes de Mille choreography has been rethought here by Matt Cole (it includes dancing bipedal cows), who keeps his cast on the hoof.
Amara Okereke is stunning as the tough, choosy Laurey, a good match for the extrovert Curly who’s endearingly played by whip-thin newcomer Hyoie O’Grady. Bronté Barbé plays Ado Annie, whose song I Cain’t Say No is funny and bonkers.
Isaac Gryn is the rodeo man Will Parker, and Scott Karim lends his tall, powerful presence to the Persian peddler Ali Hakim.
The evening blows the dust off a museum piece. With bags of energy, it seemed to reduce the West Sussex audience’s collective age by several decades.
Saddle up and get down to this summer smash.
Vienna 1934-Munich 1938
Ustinov Studio, Bath Until Saturday, 2hrs 30mins
The 1934 of the title refers to the socialist uprising in Austria. Incidentally, it was also a big date for the British stage. Three theatre dames – Maggie Smith, Judi Dench and Eileen Atkins – were born that year.
Vanessa Redgrave – who turned down a damehood – appeared three years later.
This is a show – devised, directed and starring Redgrave – partly about her famous family but mostly about the crisis of Thirties Europe. It’s told by a great actress whose career has always been upstaged by her completely bizarre, revolutionary, Leninist politics.
You get a whiff of it in this.
This is a show – devised, directed and starring Vanessa Redgrave – partly about her famous family but mostly about the crisis of Thirties Europe
She comes on as very much the fond grand-auntie, chatting away, thumbing notebooks and family albums. What follows would be interesting if it wasn’t such a total dog’s dinner.
There are slide projections of her parents, Michael and the actress Rachel Kempson; also of her actor brother, Corin Redgrave, her naval uncle Nicholas Kempson, and husband, actor Franco Nero. ‘Isn’t he gorgeous?’ she coos.
The first section is largely about Muriel Gardiner, an American anti-Nazi and a life-saver of many Viennese anti-fascists in 1934, the year Austrian Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss was assassinated.
Redgrave mostly sits at a desk, looking fascinated by this unsifted material, as her cast – Lucy Doyle makes a strong debut as Muriel Gardiner – do what they can
Her lover was the poet Stephen Spender, which prompts a reading, vividly done by Paul Hilton, of Spender’s poem Vienna. We get, too, a bit about Michael Redgrave, including his fling with Noël Coward.
The Austrian Civil War stuff is almost impossible to follow. Then, out of the blue there’s a mind-numbing lecture on the intricacies of the Italo-Abyssinian war. After that we’re off to New York in 1938 to hear a furious 20-minute lecture from the exiled German novelist Thomas Mann (Paul Hilton again) about how Britain aided Hitler into power.
Redgrave mostly sits at a desk, looking fascinated by this unsifted material, as her cast – Robert Boulter plays various characters and Lucy Doyle makes a strong debut as Muriel Gardiner – do what they can.
At the end, we get a blast of Beethoven’s Ode To Joy, the anthem of the EU, a crunchingly unsubtle reminder that the fascists are back on the march in Brexit colours.
This is a load of well-acted but glassy-eyed socialist reminiscence from the boxes at the back of Vanessa’s garage. Corbyn will love it.
The Bridges Of Madison County
Menier Chocolate Factory, London Until September 14, 2hrs 45mins
Robert James Waller’s best-selling novel was turned into a film starring Meryl Streep as Francesca, a bored Italian housewife taken to Iowa after the war, who has a chance meeting with a sexy Texan photographer named Robert, played by Clint Eastwood.
Into these cowboy boots steps Edward Baker-Duly, who has the craggy, silver-fox charisma to ape Eastwood’s. But Jenna Russell is at first unusually stiff opposite him. There’s a growing, gentle fondness between them that is lovely to watch, but as life-changing passions go, it’s pretty tepid.
Jon Bausor’s barn- like set forms a backdrop for some crashingly literal video projections, and Jason Robert Brown’s music and Trevor Nunn’s direction add to the general sense of sweetness, or soppiness, depending on your taste.
Into these cowboy boots of Robert steps Edward Baker-Duly, who has the craggy, silver-fox charisma to ape Clint Eastwood’s. But Jenna Russell is at first unusually stiff opposite him
Murmuring melodies on piano, guitar and strings are dreamy, but with lyrics that are delicately astute, and Russell’s voice sounds superb.
The show is slowly paced and could take a cut. It feels old-fashioned and earnest, like a man’s guess at a woman’s idea of romance, all starlight and soaring strings.