No sooner were Mrs Chrisparkle and I back from our four weeks at the Edinburgh Fringe, we were off to Chichester for a weekend of (hopefully!) top quality entertainment at those terrific theatres. And, late to the party, we started off with the last Saturday matinee of the run of Adam Penford’s production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music. It’s ended now, but I’m sure it had a very successful run. As soon as you knew this was to be Chichester’s summer big show offering, you knew it was going to be a crowd pleaser. And Saturday afternoon’s audience was packed to the gunwales, with lots of kids all starting their journeys as the theatregoers of tomorrow, which is always great to see.
Robert Jones’s design is perhaps a little heavy on the ecclesiastical side, with grey abbey windows and arches which deftly slide in and out. An ornate front door and mansion frontage is wheeled into place to suggest the von Trapp residence, which seems very grand indeed. However, you never get a feel for those rolling meadows of green and the Alpine peaks that lurk just outside the abbey that were so important to the young Maria; and indeed, when we first see her she emerges from beneath the stage via a trap laying down in the glorious sunshine, appreciating God’s glorious scenery, whilst supine, not on a verdant bank, but on an expanse of grey. Fortunately, Matt Samer’s orchestra bathes us in musical sunshine throughout the show, which makes up for the lack of colour variety.
The production itself is extremely classy and hits the right level of emotional engagement. I know I was not the only person in our party who noticed a tinge of moisture in their eye when the Captain melted at the sight (and sound) of his children singing (excellent melting from Edward Harrison in the role); the actual sound of music has a symbolic significance in this show, representing freedom, happiness, and love, as opposed to the self-repression that the Captain inflicted on himself and his children, and the oppression that would follow under the Nazis.
The production follows the original 1959 stage show reasonably faithfully, rather than the more familiar 1965 film, so expect My Favourite Things to come much earlier than you expect, The Lonely Goatherd has no puppet show, I Have Confidence is missing, and the nuns don’t get to scupper the Nazis cars at the end. The only change is that Something Good, originally written for the film, appears in Act Two instead of the lesser known An Ordinary Couple.
I always think that you can judge a production of The Sound of Music by how well it reflects the Nazi threat. For the Salzburg Singing Contest scene, Nazi banners unfurl and drop down from the ceiling all around the stage, and SS Officers appear spotlighted standing amongst the audience members, which is a very threatening sight. When the family are hiding at the abbey and the Nazi officers come to hunt them down, lights and shadows add to the tension and anxiety of the scene. I never found it credible that Rolf saw the family but didn’t give the game away; he was a very ambitious young Nazi and he owed nothing to any of the von Trapps apart from Liesl. If he had captured them, he would have been given great preferment. Still; maybe love can defeat a swastika after all.
The production benefited from some terrific performances. Gina Beck is excellent as Maria; her voice is clear and rich, her playfulness with the children (and indeed the Captain) is very nicely done, and her interaction with the other nuns works a treat. Janis Kelly as the Mother Abbess has an amazing voice and puts all her operatic heart and soul into the performance of Climb Ev’ry Mountain. Edward Harrison plays both the gruff and the sensitive sides of the Captain very well; and there are superb supporting performances from Wendy Ferguson and Julia J Nagle as Sisters Berthe and Margaretta, and Emma Williams as Elsa.
I wasn’t entirely sure about Ako Mitchell’s performance as Max; he came across as very showbiz and brash, rather than shifty and unprincipled. Lauren Conroy looks a tiny bit old for Liesl, but she still has that necessary childish charm; and Dylan Mason’s Rolf is earnest and protective – and a superb dancer. I think we saw the Green Team of children, and they were all terrific.
Powerful, emotional and fantastically musical, this is a very good production that would certainly suit a transfer in due course.
Production photos by Manuel Harlan