The Sydney University Music Ensemble’s (MUSE) production of A Little Night Music is an ambitious undertaking. It’s clear that much love and dedication has been put into translating the dramatic and musical complexity of the script to the stage of the Everest Theatre, as this production aims to push the envelope of what the society is capable of creating. A Little Night Music certainly accomplishes this, but is held back in some areas.
The cast is spread across a large stage, used at times for widescreen spectacle, and at times divided into smaller, more intimate tableaus that sometimes take place side by side. An ascending staircase, overhanging branches and a changing backdrop to represent the three smiles of the summer night (“smiles at the young who know nothing, at the fools who know too little and the old who know too much”), gives some depth to the space for the players to inhabit. Unfortunately, for a show defined by luxury and romantic excess, often times the set feels under-furnished and spartan, and this doesn’t quite do justice to the material. Thankfully, much attention to detail has been given to costuming; a romanticised vision of the 1900s painted with intricately detailed gowns and tailcoats that give an enchanted air to the proceedings.
With a world so removed from reality, filled with intrigue and infatuation, there was an air of restraint to the acting performances that was disappointing. The characters aren’t drawn as vividly as they could be; they tend to be sketchily defined outside of major plot points. What happens in one scene often doesn’t seem to have much bearing on the next; the characters reset, seemingly unmoved by previous events. If this was a stylistic decision, it comes at the price of flat characters, which hurts the show in its more emotionally naked scenes. The production would have benefited from a greater range of expression.
Nonetheless, several scenes were beautifully realised. “Soon” was a clear highlight, with Anne Egerman (Bronwyn Hicks), Fredrik Egerman (Stuart Bryan) and Henrik Egerman (Owen Elsley) simultaneously singing of their individual frustrations; each occupying their own scene while weaving in and out of each other’s lines building to a spiralling climax. The final scene (without spoiling too much) is charming, pure romance that’s a pleasure to watch.
Sondheim’s score twists and turns to capture a whirlwind of emotions, and both the orchestra and the players manage to keep pace. The Liebeslieder quintet sang well in unison, and the company ensemble is an unexpected source of magic with their energetic performance. Although it didn’t detract significantly from the production, intermittent microphone and projection issues meant that some dialogue and solo lines were difficult to hear.
Whilst it isn’t consistent, the tension between Fredrik Egerman (Stuart Bryan) and Desiree Armfeldt (Louise Flynn) is palpable within individual scenes. It’s unfortunate that this tension doesn’t build convincingly to its resolution. Hicks and Elsley have the most consistently compelling dynamic, and are the show’s liveliest inhabitants. The production shines when its performers fully embrace the maddening intensity of romance, and when this happens it’s a joy to watch.
The long-suffering Countess Charlotte Malcolm (Christie New) and swaggering Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm (Harry Flitcroft) share an entertainingly dysfunctional relationship, one for which the fault lies squarely with the Count, a figure as utterly ridiculous as his name. There is bitterness and desire in equal parts in New’s portrayal, and the complexity therein is touched on, but not fully embraced. Elsewhere, the irreverent, Madame Armfeldt (Sarah Gaul) brings levity amidst the troubled relationships and romance that form the backbone of the show. Gaul embodies the Armfeldt matriarch’s biting disregard for those around her to considerable comedic effect.
The ambition on display in this show is truly admirable, and in the spirit of showing off the different kinds of talent in MUSE, it largely succeeds. Whilst the show fell short of being truly affecting, its considerable charms were more than enough to make for an enjoyable night.
A Little Night Music is playing in the Everest Theatre of The Seymour Centre on the 26th, 27th and 28th of March. Tickets are $20 for Access holders and can be bought online here, or on the door to avoid a truly disgusting booking fee.
Photography courtesy of Wenray Wang, from House of Cameo