Southbank Theatre – The Lawler – 30 June – 15 July
If you’re looking for light entertainment, keep rolling along past Southbank Theatre’s The Lawler this July.
Sondheim’s notorious Broadway flop follows the events that lead to the dissolution of the friendship of trio Frank Shepard (Lyall Brooks), Mary Flynn (Nicole Melloy) and Charley Kringas (Nelson Gardner) in a reverse chronological narrative.
The reversal of events hides necessary exposition and explanation of motivation in favour of revealing it as the narrative unfolds. Unfortunately, the resolution of the final scene holds little reward, and the delayed revelation of motivation and inciting events makes it difficult to sympathise with the characters.
Performing without microphones, the cast is at times difficult to hear and chorus numbers lack the volume needed to reflect the energy of David Wynen’s choreography.
Gardner is delightfully authentic and engaging as Charley, impressing particularly with his zealous delivery of ‘Franklin Shepard Inc.’ Although the quality of vocals is inconsistent in this Watch This production, the trio Gardner, Brooks and Melloy are skilled enough to hold up the performance.
Emily Collett’s set design centres around an enormous staircase with half a bannister encompasses almost half of the stage. It’s awkward, distracting, and aside from its use as the rooftop for the closing number ‘Our Time’, not particularly versatile.
Melloy isn’t particularly convincing as the alcoholic Mary at Frank’s film premiere party, and the decision to use empty plastic cups doesn’t help. Melodramatically staggering and falling around the stage, Melloy hits a stack of plastic cups. The sound of empty plastic bouncing on the floor undermines the moment, and Melloy invites titters rather than sympathy.
Cristina D’Agostino is satisfactorily unlikeable as the archetypal villain Gussie. Although she demonstrates a clear emotional arc in her journey from jaded former Hollywood star to innocent pre-fame secretary, she lacks subtlety and spends the bulk of the performance as the manipulative seductress with little in the way of gradual character development.
Collett’s costume design skips subtlety as well. Dressing D’Agostino in predominantly green, she evokes connotations of greed and jealousy, while the serpentine colour – a nod to the classic biblical villain – emphasises her role as the seductress.
Brooks captures more nuances in each of his regressive incarnations of Frank. From embittered big shot Hollywood producer to the innocent victim of Gussie’s wiles, Brooks gradually leads the audience back through Frank’s emotional turning points.
Although the resolution holds little reward for the focused audience, Brooks’ performance alongside Sondheim’s score are enough to satisfy in this Watch This production of Merrily We Roll Along.