Oklahoma! – June 2009

5/10

By Rodgers and Hammerstein

Directed by John Doyle

Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre

Date: Monday 22nd June 2009

Musicals aren’t Steve’s and my favourite type of entertainment, and while this performance was enjoyable it didn’t change our minds on the genre as a whole, although we would be happy to see another production of Oklahoma! in the future. The set was as minimalist as one could possibly get; just two grimy sheets slung across the stage at angles to suggest a wide open sky and a floorboard mound to suggest a field of wheat and the like. The director is well known for his economic use of resources in the Watermill Theatre (we hope to attend that one soon) and old habits evidently die hard.

The staging was similarly pretty sparse, and from reviews I’ve read the costumes were positively niggardly, with only one outfit per cast member (Ado Annie excepted, if I remember right). I thought the singing was great, and I especially loved Ado Annie (Natalie Cassidy) and her various partners in dialogue or song. Natalie Cassidy has such an expressive face, and she brought out the character and the humour really well.

From the post-show discussion, it was clear that the director had decided to bring out the darker side of this piece, and while that can make for an interesting evening it isn’t always appropriate. With this musical, I think the darker side is so under-written that it seems silly to emphasise it so much instead of giving the punters a rollicking good evening’s entertainment, but that’s just me. At least Steve and I had nothing to compare the production with, unlike many in the audience who could remember the original West End production, never mind the one at the National several years ago. Generally speaking, those who’d seen a more upbeat, lavish production found this one dismal and disappointing, while those of us who came to it relatively fresh (we had at least seen bits of the movie) found it more enjoyable.

On the whole, I felt the characters were pretty uninteresting, apart from Ado Annie and Ali Hakim (Michael Matus) the Persian pedlar who occasionally took off his makeup and spoke in a regular American accent. I felt he was worth more attention, compared to the bog standard Oklahomans. Aunt Eller in particular seemed to be on stage a lot but spoke and did very little, despite being a main character apparently. Ah well, better luck next year.

© 2009 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

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