It's a good time for obscure works by big theatre names in London at the moment. As a change from "lost" Tennessee Williams, how about an almost-forgotten Sondheim? An early, small-scale contribution to the 80th birthday celebrations before the upcoming larger productions (I'm already squeeing in anticipation of Elena Roger in Passion
) this revival of a 1964 show that flopped on Broadway comes from Primavera, the company behind the recent The Rivals
at Southwark. Anyone Can Whistle
is Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents' allegory on the rise of fascism, transported to a small town with a corrupt town council. Considering the strong flavour of "Americana" in the show's publicity I was surprised to find that Tom Littler's production sticks to the actors' own accents. Not that I disapprove, on the contrary I've said before that if there's no specific reason a play could only be taking place in America, I'd rather the actors didn't have an accent to worry about, and certainly in this case the note of universality is appropriate.
Cora Hoover Hooper (Issy van Randwyck) is the mayoress of a town in dire financial straits. She and her henchmen cook up a "miracle" in an attempt to swindle tourists but Nurse Apple (Rosalie Craig) has other ideas. She works at the "Cookie Jar," a mental asylum where some of the patients may be not so much mad as prone to behaviour that doesn't suit the current regime. Soon the inmates are mixed up with everyone else, and only mysterious stranger Hapgood (David Ricardo-Pearce) seems to know how to sort things out.
I love seeing musicals in tiny theatres, and this is mine and vanessaw
's second Sondheim in a small space after last year's Into the Woods
at the Landor. It's great to hear these big voices up close (we had front row seats for this) and all three leads are impressive. The whole cast is good (this is another production where the instruments are played by members of the cast) and the whole thing is very entertaining while still having its darker overtones. At times I thought the production was less subtle about the anti-fascist message than the play itself is (Cora & co's black-and-red uniforms are striking but maybe a bit obvious) but overall we both really loved this, and there's quite a few show-stopping songs, including "There Won't Be Trumpets," "Simple" and the final duet "With So Little To Be Sure Of." Well worth seeing if you can. Which you can't, because it's sold out.Anyone Can Whistle
by Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents is booking until the 17th of April at Jermyn Street Theatre.