Phil Hopkins, Group Travel Editor & Theatre Correspondent

Sondheim Would Be Smiling On Leeds

Like a good wine, James Brining’s production of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music has matured beautifully in the 12 months since I last saw this gloriously naughty musical at Leeds Playhouse.

Then, it was rich in character, sets and nuance, however, this time, it is as if the director has wrung every last ounce of potential out of the late master’s creation: it was the same show but, somehow, different.

Dialogue delivery was seamless – as was Opera North’s magnificent orchestra – and as simple as the libretto was in parts, it was as if the cast had been directed to shift dialogue emphasis, making for a consistently delicious production that got better, and funnier, with every mouthful.

Dame Josephine Barstow, as the Grand Madame of the piece, Madame Armfeldt - narrating the innocence and foolishness unfolding all around her - was fantastic. She really was a joy and had the audience eating out of her hand!
Bathed in irony, honesty, love, lies and intrigue, this beautifully crafted study of the human condition – Sondheim was responsible for the music and lyrics and Hugh Wheeler the book - this show feels as eternal as the themes it examines.

Brining was given a classic masterpiece to work with but, nevertheless, has pulled off a beauty in this joint production with Opera North.

First premiered nearly half a century ago when Sondheim was still in his early 40’s, the musical must have appeared overly precocious for one still so relatively young.

Inspired by the 1955 Ingmar Bergman film Smiles of a Summer Night, it looks at the glamorous lives of various mismatched lovers and their romantic trysts over a weekend in the country.

It’s themes are seemingly endless: love, loss, regret, fear: everything that shadows each one of use from cradle to the grave.

The cast was largely unchanged from 2021 except for the addition of Sandra Piques Eddy as Madame Armfeldt’s actress daughter, Desiree...
...coquettish, cheeky, naughty but oh so nice, plying her trade as a theatrical maneater alongside lover, Fredrik Egerman (Quirijn de Lang).

Her rendition of Send in the Clowns really pulled on the heart strings and it is not difficult to imagine why this lady is a favourite of audiences at the New York Met.

The first half at 90 mins is quite the marathon and the second act will get you to almost 10.30pm, however, this is a quality production that was almost faultless with Chris Davey’s lighting plot bringing the show to a classy, masterful end.

A Little Night Music
Leeds Playhouse
Until July 16th