Heather Conder and Tom TaplinSapphire Armitage

Sondheim once again graces the ADC stage this week with the arrival of A Little Night Music, a classic tale of a tangled set of love affairs. While this performance sparkled with excellent music and characterisation, an absence of clear creative input failed to bring certain aspects of the witty and charming musical to life.

The cast embodied the romantic and farcical elements of A Little Night Music with ease. Tom Taplin as Fredrik Egerman and Ashleigh Weir as Desiree Armfeldt gave strong vocal performances. ‘You Must Meet My Wife’ evinced commendable comedic dynamism between the pair, which was sustained throughout the production. Calum Maney humorously portrayed the naïve and foolish qualities of Count Carl-Magnus and delivered his number ‘In Praise of Women’ with great conviction. Special mention must go to Weir for her touching rendition of ‘Send In The Clowns’ and Lucia Azzi, in the role of Petra, for her captivating performance of ‘The Miller’s Son’.

The role of the Quintet was, however, never properly explained. The relation of these characters to the rest of the cast was unclear, while their gloomy attire and ghoulish makeup imbued them with overly sinister undertones. Additionally, while prominent within the performance, it was a shame not to see individual qualities shine through between members of the Quintet, who were instead presented as though they all shared the exact same personality and mannerisms.

The use of the orchestra pit was appreciated; it created a traditional layout for this classic musical, while allowing the excellent music to take prominence. The band captured the enchanting quality of Sondheim’s score, which is composed almost entirely in waltz time, with great attention. This lilting aspect was, however, not sustained through the technical areas of the production, as transitions between dialogue and song were too jarring. The lighting patterns shifted abruptly, while microphones were not operational during the opening lines of several numbers. The rendition of ‘Soon’ was noticeably marred by these sound malfunctions, rendering many parts of the song inaudible.

The staging was unimaginative and use of props and sets appeared limited to the bare essentials. For instance, it was unclear how the flower wallpaper backdrop was applicable to all settings. Although Desiree’s country estate is implied to be one of luxury and exuberance, the stage remained a vacuous and barren space. Even though the production mostly lacked a sense of creative boldness, there were a few notable exceptions. The opening Waltz scene involving the entire cast was an intricate and challenging sequence performed with great adeptness and the tree panels present in the second act were simple yet versatile, astutely used to fashion makeshift dividers between different areas of Desiree’s manor.

Most disappointingly, the production failed to ground the narrative in a specific time or location, which instilled the performance with an unsettling ambiguity. With references spanning from the early 20th century to the present day, such as the use of mobile phones and modern suitcases, scenes sporadically oscillated between decades without any apparent purpose or direction. Equally, no sustained attempts were made to pinpoint the production in a specific country.

Sondheim’s production ultimately affirms that idle escapism can triumph and that people can content themselves in a world of perpetual anticipation, a concept that does not automatically suit a universal sense of timelessness. A Little Night Music should transport you to an era of enchantment and elegance and, while this is achieved in the more romanticised elements of the production, sequences lacking in clear temporal and spatial awareness made the motives of certain characters hard to comprehend.

This production of A Little Night Music offers a pleasant and enjoyable portrayal of entangled romantic relations with farcical consequences, yet through the absence of a strong creative impulse it fails to fully capture the poignant wit and charm of Sondheim’s musical.

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