Homer Numan

Homer Numan

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Jessie's Opening Night

On 22nd November, I travelled to London to see Jessie's debut in 'A Little Night Music' in the Menier in Southwark.
Meeting up with Jackie and Katie, I had a wonderful evening and am here publishing Jackie's superb review, which sums up the evening better than I ever could:

Ever left the theatre and wanted to walk straight back in to see a production all over again? Exactly my feeling last year exiting the National Theatre after seeing 'War Horse' - visually and emotionally stunning,'a childrens story that reduces adults to tears'. Then came 'A Little Night Music' at the Menier Chocolate Factory, quite opposite in genre but as unforgettable and engaging. I can't imagine why I had not discovered this piece before, so rich one could relish this experience over again. I visit the theatre frequently but this was my first Sondheim show. I've never written a review either, so this is simply observation,and a combination of two incredible evenings.

There is nothing to compare with the joy and privilege of that opening night -celebrating Jessie's professional theatre(dress rehearsal)debut,in such a welcoming and intimate environment, in the very best of company with friends Katie, David and some familiar faces.

No, I don't hold a MCF season ticket! But later, when my other half walks through the door with two tickets for ALNM on my birthday, sacrificing tickets for England v's the All Blacks that same day - I dont turn it down ! (Safe in the knowledge I won't miss Jonny Wilkinson who's still injured...it beats last years offering -a trip to John Lewis to purchase a tumble dryer...another chance to see this production...a 'no brainer'.)

I'm familiar with the MCF, it's as delightful and endearing as the ALNM cast,the two perfectly matched. This was a first to see a Sondheim production in this special little space and I was smitten by the entire experience. Astonishingly, so was 'Mr Critical' who guffawed and sniggered throughout, exclaiming 'absolutely brilliant' by the interval - why bother with the West End and what a result. (better than an England,Hakka hammering and much warmer).

Not wishing to dwell on the past, but in a matter of months ,the blessing in disguise not winning IDA,and escape from the media circus, is born out by the sheer pace of development in Jessie, witnessed at the MCF,hopefully dispelling any doubts from the faithless,with performances surpassing her years in maturity and measuring up to her on stage colleagues, who are of the highest calibre.

At the flick of a lace hankerchief, Jessie takes us through the turmoil faced by the vain young bride Anne, her highs and lows,tears and laughter. Anne, a master at avoiding the subject of her husband's desires, whilst adoring the flattery of young Henrik's gaze, as he looks on like a forlorn labrador puppy. Notable is the extraordinary control over the accent we usually love to hear,this is surely a challenge itself-just watch it grow in confidence between now and March. The beautiful solo song 'Soon' reiterating Jessie's vocal ability. This convincing evidence of hard work and development is enough to inspire any young creative to persevere.

The plot,a jolly good romp and sensitive fairy tale, in my view must be 'experienced 'and not just read', a delicate mix of shades from Midsummer Nights Dream, A Country Wife, Fielding's Tom Jones and Woody Allen. Every part of the space is used,the beauty of such a tiny theatre, allows every gesture to be shared,and one rapidly engages with the characters with an intimacy no other venue provides. Virtually three hours on that opening night flew by.

Under Nunn's direction Jessie displays a range of emotions at every interaction and glance, through the impressively witty and rich and moving script. Comedy is difficult to do well, but the timing delivered works and Jessie as a natural 'expressive' shines. Look out for sarcasm and those sharp cutting comments, squeezed out at opportune moments, quick or it's gone - Mr Nunn & his skillful cast don't miss a trick.

Maureen Lipman (a favourite actress) playing an astute commanding Madame Armfeldt is superb. I loved her Joyce Grenville show previously and now playing a combination of my stern headmistress Sister Cuthbert with her devestating stare and sharp, worldly wise, great grandma, who lived to 100. Intimidating-yes.

In the second act, Hannah Waddingham with amazing stage presence,showed me what 'Send In The Clowns' really means.I have never engaged with this song until now (sorry. A highlight of the show and sublime, when in context and integral to the dialogue, bringing tears of sympathy for her vivacious character, Desiree.

Alexander Hanson is totally charming alongside Jessie. In the theatre scene the two characters sit among the audience. I found myself being greeted by 'good evening' from Fredrick as he and Anne sat next to me on the steps. 'Good evening to you ' I answered. The characters exchange comments, then sit momentarily frozen in time, mid applause...not a flicker, total professionalism, immensely impressive. Ann delivers a perfecty peevish and livid 'I want to go home!' and flounces her exit via the back row. A most excellent strop Jessie.

'Every Day A Little Death' sung by Jessie and Kelly is touching and sensitively played, the tears are real.

'A Weekend In The Country'...I love to see Jessie sing this cleverly crafted and tricky song. As expressive as ever, eyebrows in overdrive, she rapidly shifts between sarcasm, paranoia, jealousy, disgust, insecurity, anticipation, mischief,(she's good at mischief,very good)and steals laughter with one of the songs best lines. She seems in her element at the end of the first act.

Act two,or 'Babes in the Wood' as it could be renamed, sees the mismatched couples find their happiness with their rightful partners,with the help and freedom of the great outdoors.

The best came with the unexpected. Opening night had the cast taking a bow, but a week later,curtain calls were in order. As Jessie and Gabriel stepped forward,I was on my feet,a proud 'bravo', a most memorable standing ovation,and no one deserved this moment more than Jessie.
(I was already standing at Hyde park,so that doesnt count !). I noted my husband also on his feet in applause,he never does this...ever.

I can only imagine that perhaps this show and schedule is totally rewarding and exhiliaratng but tough, with much to learn between now and March. Jessie has risen admirably to the challenges faced since the distant days of IDA, and like the unassuming Charlie Bucket, young Ms Buckley has won the prize worth waiting for,on her own merit...the key to the gates of the Chocolate Factory. Thus becoming part of Nunn's unique production,and one of gravitas - a perfect role. It's called landing on your feet.

We await the press...

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