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Watermill - A Star Danced

10th September to 25th October 2003.

From the Newbury Weekly News.

Reflecting on time

A Star Danced, at The Watermill Theatre, until October 25

John Doyle's latest offering is different and full of reflections - and not only in the excellent set where geometrical chrome and glass are mirrored, together with performers, in a shining backdrop above which a changing date shows time recalled in the action below.

The scene in this latest offering from John Doyle and his company of actor musicians is an annual reunion for eight 'friends' hosted by Margaret and Peter.

Angela Sims gives a superbly well-observed performance as hostess Margaret, desperately trying to make things go well, but eventually realising that she is taken for granted by her "walking face flannel" husband Peter (Jeremy Harrison).

For 20 years they've held the 'annual glance at yesterday' and much disturbed water has torrented under the bridge since then.

Now, for the first time, the beautiful Helen (Rebecca Harrison) has arrived with Liam (Robert Sterne) and the cat is thrown among the pigeons when it's discovered that 'Wicked Witch' Joanne (Nina Lucking) lied to prevent her husband Claude (Christopher Dickins) marrying Helen 20 years earlier. The final two friends are the older Barbara (Karen Mann) and Ben (Edward York) in love for years, but 'it's all about time' - and they're not the only ones who have never found time to say the things which should be said.

As the ill-fated reunion progresses, flashbacks lit with effective use of warm amber light and a slight echo highlight the relationships shattering and mending.

Don't think that all the angst means a gloom-ridden production. It's not. The dry asides and Margaret's frantic worrying ensure the humour, cleverly contrasted with poignancy.

The actor/musicians use instruments to underline emotions - the warmth of a purring sax, tinkling pianos, delicate tinges of percussion - musical director Sarah Travis again exactly matching the music to the mood of the performance.

Director John Doyle's words are intricately woven by the cast, often line by line, and the musical play positively zips along, while the reflective backdrop makes the audience feel that they, too, have been invited and may at any point be asked by their worried hostess if they would like coffee or tea.

We've come to expect superb entertainment from this magnificent team. Yet again, they haven't disappointed us.

CAROLINE FRANKLIN

This is from The Times.

Four stars
Do you prefer your musicals to be serious? Or drily comic? Poignant? Sophisticated? Or aren't you insistent on any of these provided the result gives delight? Well, all of us are in luck, because what John Doyle (book, lyrics, direction) and Sarah Travis (music) have contrived brings together all the above qualities, and the result is an evening of enchantment.

A star danced when Beatrice was born, or so she tells us in Much Ado About Nothing, and in this musical an echo of her on-off romance with Benedick can be heard sounding behind the long-interrupted love affair of the middle-aged Barbara and Ben, who deny their feelings behind jesting.

They are two of the eight people gathered together for "the annual glance at yesterday" organised by bright-smiling, apprehensive Margaret. But this year's gathering will turn out to be different from its predecessors, because bachelor Liam brings Helen with him, and none of the others has seen her since her planned wedding to Claude was brutally broken off after a lie was spoken — by the woman Claude then married instead.

The influence of Much Ado lies behind this situation too, but the ado caused by Joanne's flash of jealousy has festered in everyone's life for 20 years.

So much for the plot, which ingeniously trickles out of the fractured conversations and musical numbers, predominantly wistful in tone, sung by Doyle's company of actor-musicians. Their instruments include two keyboards and a triangle but the others are brass, muted trumpet, sax, trombone, and there is nothing like brass for conjuring up the sense of late-night nostalgia. Something of the style of many of the lyrics, and perhaps of the music too, comes across in this verse: "It only takes a choice./ A yes-or-no reply. A voice./ And everything changes./ Rearranges."

Acted on a stage furnished only with Perspex boxes that serve as stools or tables, the characters mix honest asides with practised evasion of one another's hesitant questions. There is even something Chekhovian in the way words that are part of one couple's exchange answer or comment upon another's. The feelings that lie behind everyday denials emerge with a bittersweet perception unusual in a musical.

All the players deserve mention: Angela Sims, the alarmed hostess; Rebecca Jackson, a guarded Helen; Nina Lucking, her edgy nemesis; Karen Mann's regretful Barbara. Jeremy Harrison and Christopher Dickins play the disappointing husbands, Robert Sterne the contented bachelor, and Edward York a reluctant one who, like Benedick, at last is granted his star dancer.

JEREMY KINGSTON

And this is Newbury Theatre's view (for Kick FM).

When you go to a good musical, you don’t want it to end, and when it does, you come out humming the tunes. A Star Danced didn’t do this for me; I thought it was tedious and the music was immediately forgettable. It’s the story of eight friends who have been getting together for a reunion once a year for the last twenty years. It’s what I call a jigsaw play, where you’re given bits of the story and you have to piece them together. It’s very common in films, with flashbacks, but less common in the theatre where the flashbacks are harder to do. As well as flashbacks, the dialogue switches between different couples having different conversations, so that one couple’s conversation seems to flow from that of another couple. This was quite clever, and worked well.

There wasn’t much of a plot; it was about the relationships between the people, which were all affected by things that happened at the original meeting twenty years ago. Everyone seemed to be wanting what they hadn’t got, although the ones that weren’t married were offering us more hope than the ones that were. And at the back of the set was a huge fuzzy mirror, giving a diffused view of the characters and perhaps symbolising the confusion in the relationships.

I’ve liked all the previous John Doyle productions I’ve seen, and this had the same mix of talented actor/musicians. But for me, it didn’t have the magic of his other productions.

PAUL SHAVE

The reviews from This Oxfordshire ("sometimes mixes musical drama and comedy a mite uneasily") and whatsonstage.com ("the production is curiously static and the characters fail to snap into three-dimensional life" - Three stars) are no longer available. There is another review at www.reviewsgate.com ("an evening of “moments” and there are many but perhaps not quite making up a satisfactory whole").