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National Theatre Live presents FOLLIES, book by James Goldman, Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Filmed in the Olivier Theatre at the National Theatre, South Bank, London.

I have not talked about the National Theatre Broadcasts before but felt that one should not pass on mentioning the superlative production by Dominic Cooke of the iconic and monumental, legendary, Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman American Musical, FOLLIES, screened this past weekend at some selected cinemas.

FOLLIES was first produced in 1971 on Broadway, Directed by Harold Prince and Michael Bennett. It won some seven Tony Awards but closed after only 500 performances at an absolute loss to all of its investors.

Watching this revival production from the National Theatre of Great Britain one can’t help but take in the sheer conceptual scale of this work. It uses the reunion of a group of ex-follies women and their partners on the stage of a soon to be demolished theatre and manages to create a homage to a past age of the American Theatre and tell a vivid story of the reality of the fervid dreams of youth that marinate through time into tragedies of deception and lovelessness – the common condition of some married lives. (Sondheim’s jaded view of relationships was heralded in his previous hit, COMPANY). The title FOLLIES as a double whammy – the Follies as a theatrical form integrated with the literal follies of man – in this case exemplified in the last section of the musical in a pastiche of the Follies, with the follies of the principal characters Sally and Buddy, Phyllis and Ben, brought centre stage.

The intellectual execution of this work, the literary work of James Goldman, and the musical genius of Stephen Sondheim, both with his empathy for his country’s musical heritage and his own evolving ‘voice’, bursting with a wit and peerless sense of the word-smithing of the piercingly wonderful lyrics of his songs, that has not really been surpassed (except by himself, perhaps), is astounding. This musical is an Epic Tragedy and the immensity of its architecture really is brilliantly shown-off in this monumental production mounted by the National Theatre in the Olivier Theatre. FOLLIES requires the National Theatre’s generous resources to reveal and realise the scope of the ambition of this towering work.

The Design by Vicki Mortimer, the Musical Direction by Nicholas Skilbeck, Lighting by Paule Constable, Choreography of Bill Deamer and the density of wondrous talent and experience of the performers Directed by Dominic Cooke (in his first Musical Direction) is of a scale excellence that one can only weep in envy at what we see and hear.

The leading tragedians/singers Imelda Staunton (Sally), Janie Dee (Phyllis), Peter Forbes (Buddy) and Australian Philip Quast (Ben) are outstanding, haunted in the production by their younger selves and the eerie figures of fully dressed ghosts of the Follies Girls.

If you have a chance go. It is worth it. This is a musical play of epic tragedy of the most sophisticated kind. (So many of its songs have become standards of the musical theatre repertoire). FOLLIES’ demands of scale make it prohibitive to stage. It also makes it extraordinarily difficult to ‘pull-off’. This production delivers the scale in brilliant proportion and lands the drama with immaculate taste and satisfying, elevating temper. One feels all right with the world when an Art form can achieve so well.

My companion and I were walking on air afterwards.