Theatre in Wales

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Summer Delight

At RWCMD

And the World Goes ‘Round- Richard Burton Company , Bute Theatre , July 8, 2014
At RWCMD by And the World Goes ‘Round- Richard Burton Company The Bute Theatre has an entire wall splattered with posters and posters-upon- posters. Suggs is due. One reads simply “Life” with a large question mark. Emma Hickey enters and turns upright some nondescript chairs. It is an any-hall anywhere. She is also singing the title song with its lyrics of wistful acceptance. “Sometimes you’re happy, and sometimes you’re sad but the world goes round.”

The other company members appear, costumed to chime with the show’s original 1991 date. One character is in flamboyant micro-skirt and patterned tights, another in bowtie and skinny jeans. Leather jacket, duffle coat and high-waisted business suit nudge alongside homely skirts and cardigans of unredeemed geekiness. Emma Hickey’s new-ager in big beads and flowing fabrics loosely presides over the group who sit in an assembled circle.

Ned Sherrin gave the Sondheim oeuvre a boost with a compendium show that, with just three singers, ran for years in London and New York. “And the World Goes ‘Round” follows the pattern, twenty-five songs from John Kander and Fred Ebb. But for Cardiff it comes with a difference. No longer a cabaret-style performance Pia Furtado has re-envisaged it as a public meeting of twelve characters in their anywhere hall, to a purpose unspecified but suggestively therapeutic. It is a device that works with brilliance, fits unobtrusively and turns the show into full musical theatre. The snap-crackle choreography is the work of Alastair David. The seventy-five minutes are supported by a single piano; musical director is Joe Hood.

Stephen Sondheim’s book “Finishing the Hat” of 2010 startled the theatre world somewhat with its acerbic critiques of fellow lyricists. He made exception for Fred Ebb, marking him as one of a group for whom meticulousness of craft is a given. There is the use of a triple rhyme early on- “somebody wins”/ “kicks in the shins”/ “but the planet spins.” “Long and lean” gets to rhyme with “mezzanine” and “amber and green”. The range takes in cynical realism- “Money” is given an exuberant full-company treatment- nifty footwork to be seen among others from Kelly Virgill and Sharon Preece. But Ebb also writes the songs of private hurt and hope. “Maybe this time/ I’ll be lucky”, sung by Johanna O’Brien, is eternal.

The company numbers twelve. Theatre is collaboration and much of the pleasure is to be had in seeing a full company at work. The numbers have been distributed to play to the strengths of individual voices. “The Kiss of the Spider Woman” gets the big-voiced treatment it absolutely needs in the hands of Luke McCall. Andrew Machin is a figure of lonely pathos for “Mr Cellophane.” “All That Jazz” gets deep-pitched raunch from Laura Platt and Rebecca Reid with Coran Jones their dancing partner. By contrast Alice Jarvis renders “My Colouring Book” with deep-tinged poignancy. There is a lot of emotion to be had from “These are the eyes that watched them/ As he walked away/ Colour them grey.”

Musical theatre is not just singing. It is acting too. Sally Horton does that great song of nostalgia “Coloured Lights”, while the company around her becomes a merry-go-round. “Sometimes a Day Goes By” is Ebbs at his most Sondheimian, close to “Not a day goes by” although its predecessor by a decade. Christopher Jay performs it with that most challenging of actorly accomplishment, the illusion of ease and relaxation.

The Royal College once again performs a service in bringing to a stage work that is both uncommon and of great interest. The individual musicals are regularly revived but this choice reveals the distilled cumulative accomplishment of composer and lyricist. “What good is sitting alone in your room?” run Ebb’s lyrics for the final number. “Come hear the music play.” Too right. On a sultry summer night “And the World Goes ‘Round” is sheer delight.

“And the World Goes ‘Round” continues until 12th July.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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