Queen’s choice of A Little Night Music for their garden play was a good one. The Sondheim classic fit beautifully with its surroundings: the lush gardens of Queen’s, and excellent lighting meant that the slow setting of the sun only added to the intimate atmosphere of the performance. We’d been blessed with a beautiful day for the first night of the performance, and the combination made for a very pleasant evening.
Although there were a few opening night wobbles in the early stages of the musical, for the most part the singing was excellent, particularly that of the main characters. In places the orchestra and chorus seemed to be a little out of sync; once again I would put this down to the stress of a first performance, as by the interval these had been smoothed out, and the second half was significantly better.
In the lead role of Desiree, Emi Staniazsek dazzled, showcasing an ability to be both seductive, comedic, and intensely vulnerable at different parts in the performance. Indeed, the audience laughed aloud frequently throughout the performance. A special mention must be given to Gavin Fleming and Grace Albery in their roles as the wonderfully mismatched couple Count Carl-Magnus and Countess Charlotte – the huge cheer they received during the bows shows just how fantastic their performances were. Fleming in particular managed to make the audience almost cry with laughter at his pompous and fiery demeanour – even with his trousers round his ankles. The main cast in general had fantastic chemistry, and were well-rehearsed and confident in their performances. Even the supporting characters had very distinct personalities, and almost every person stole the show at some point.
A few other areas that must be praised were the stage direction and costume. By careful use of the chorus, the tricky business of moving characters and props off stage at the end of the scene was made much smoother. Furthermore the choreography throughout was simple but effective, and very fitting with the tone and setting of the performance. The costume too was for the most part very fitting. This was particularly the case for Madame Armfelt, an old woman, whose costume and make-up was so convincing that several among us were left wondering if she was genuinely an older tutor or mature student. There was, however, some discrepancy in historical base. Costumes like that of Count Carl-Magnus or the servant Frid suggested a reasonable level of devotion to the original setting of the play around 1900, but other characters wore jeans or other outfits much more fitting with the modern day, or past century. Yet this did not particularly detract from what was a very impressive performance, and was just a minor note.
The thing that let the performance down the most were the frequent technical faults. Particularly regarding the chorus, there were moments when you simply could not hear what was being said or sung, and some microphones completely switched on and off at random moments throughout the performance. Again, hopefully this issue will be resolved in the remainder of performances, but did at some points dull the magic somewhat.
Generally, I really enjoyed the performance. To be able to produce something as complex and moving as that performance A Little Night Music, with the cast and crew still tackling difficult degrees is highly impressive, and I would recommend watching it for the magnificent cast if nothing else. I’m confident that the minor criticisms I have are mainly down to the fact it was opening night, and will be resolved in the remainder of the performances. Overall, a sophisticated and pleasant performance.