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Theatre Review: Oklahoma! is a needless and misguided take on a classic

This utterly misguided take on an ancient musical will antagonise the only people it’s likely to attract

Oklahoma! at the Young Vic

Oklahoma!
Young Vic, London, until June 25

If there’s a point to the Young Vic, it’s to showcase new talent. An ancient musical like Oklahoma! ought to represent everything that’s anathema to this challenger theatre.

Daniel Fish’s production is staged in what looks like a vast, sterile community hall. The acoustics are terrible. For most of the time, the house lights are full on, which means it’s possible for audience members, sitting on all three sides of the performers and the musicians, to contemplate each other looking at their watches and yawning. It’s difficult to focus on any one
performer because there’s simply too much going on and the space on which everyone performs is too big and ill-defined.

What Fish doesn’t understand about Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical is that the plot is no more than a device to showcase some great songs. That’s literally the only point of it. He has chosen to reimagine it as a kind of Quentin Tarantino shocker about sex and death. There is now far too much dialogue and not enough singing and it all ends with Laurey (Anoushka Lucas) and Curly (Arthur Darvill) on their wedding day with their white outfits splattered with the blood of Patrick Vaill’s Jud.

The real tragedy is that this utterly misguided show will antagonise the
only people it’s likely to attract: oldies wanting a safe, cosy night out listening to some great old standards. I saw at least one old buffer potter out in despair, which is quite something on an opening night. Rogers and Hammerstein must be turning in their graves.

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