Wyndham’s Theatre, London, until Sept 2
Say what you like about the late Howard Keel, but when he belted out Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’ in Oklahoma! you sat up and took notice. The problem with Daniel Fish’s “reimagining” of the old Rodgers and Hammerstein classic is he hasn’t a single singer in Keel’s class – with that
vocal range and stage presence – and accordingly, the mind wanders.
There were certainly a lot of distractions on the first night. Several punters decided to head for the hills – timing their departures to coincide with the big numbers – and, with no centre aisle in the stalls, this meant virtually whole rows having to stand up in what looked like a succession of Mexican waves.
Somewhere close to me was a punter on a creaking old chair and it squeaked
loudly with every movement, and there were a lot of movements. Others, clearly bored, chatted among themselves. What irritated me most of all – and quite frankly I feel, going forward, it’s a real health and safety issue – is that the whole auditorium is plunged into total darkness for what seems like an eternity as two of the characters express murderous thoughts.
This has been said to be a dark reimagining of the old classic, but Fish is taking the word too literally. I heard several women saying during the interval they felt unsafe when all the lights went out because they felt it was
a groper’s paradise. Put bluntly, too, audiences don’t pay to sit in total darkness. They pay to see a show.
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. Rogers and Hammerstein must be turning in their graves.