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 Connecting professional and amateur theatre in Newbury, West Berkshire and beyond

Watermill Theatre

Box office

01635 46044.

The Watermill Theatre, Bagnor, Newbury, RG20 8AE. A map is here. A seating plan is here.


Reviews of A Little Night Music

27th July to 16th September 2017

Review from Newbury Theatre.

The opening waltz of Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, with partners swapping frantically, gives us a hint of the antics to come, worthy of a Feydeau farce.

Madame Armfeldt, the doyenne of the family, lives with her granddaughter Fredrika and gets occasional visits from her daughter Desirée, Fredrika’s mum, who is a famous actress. Solicitor Fredrik Egerman lives with his wife Anne and son Henrik. So far so good, but Fredrik gets tickets for him and Anne to see a play starring Desirée which brings back memories for him (and Desirée) of the affair they had 14 years ago. Oh, by the way, Fredrika is about 13; the hint’s in the name. Fredrik is not getting what he needs at home; Anne is 18 and still a virgin although they’ve been married 11 months, so he sneaks off to see Desirée where his needs are met but there is a post-coital interruption from Count Carl-Magnus who is Desirée’s current (married) lover and not best pleased. With me so far?

Added to that, Henrik is trying to get off with the, ahem, very experienced maid Petra (who seems to come from Northern Ireland), and the Count’s wife Charlotte unburdens herself to Anne and tells her that Fredrik and Desirée are at it again. And that’s just Act One, which ends with a rousing rendering of A Weekend in the Country, setting the scene for Act Two in Madame’s house.

Although it’s a musical, verging on an operetta, you can see there’s quite a lot of plot to fit in, and the large cast of 13 actor/musicians do it with gusto. The two main characters are Fredrik (Alastair Brookshaw) and Desirée (Josefina Gabrielle) and they’re brilliant, with great chemistry between them (except when he’s telling her You Must Meet My Wife!). Their doubts emerge in Act Two, culminating in a touching version of Send in the Clowns.

Alex Hammond gives a fine comic portrayal of the dim but belligerent Count, and there are strong performances from Dillie Keane as Madame, with her reminiscences of a string of high-ranking lovers, Phoebe Fildes as the Countess, Benedict Salter as Henrik – a difficult part to play – and Christina Tedders as Petra. The black-clad characters coming on from time to time like a Greek chorus was a nice touch.

Director Paul Foster manages to make sense out of the potential chaos, and the complex lighting plot from Howard Hudson adds to the atmosphere.

It was great fun and highly entertaining, but for me there was one big problem: the music often drowned the singing; such a shame to miss Sondheim’s great lyrics. Maybe it was where I was sitting, maybe it was too many players on stage at the same time, maybe it was the way the actors were miked up, but I’ve never had this problem with musicals at the Watermill before.


Review from The Times.

Sondheim affair is note perfect but lacks passion

three stars
This is the first time that Stephen Sondheim’s 1973 musical A Little Night Music has been performed by actor-musicians and you can see why the Watermill wanted to do it. This small theatre, which feels like an idyllic rural retreat that just happens to have a stage, has had huge success with such productions, not least with its 2004 Sweeney Todd that transferred to the West End and Broadway.

Hugh Wheeler wrote the original script for A Little Night Music, framed around a plot inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s 1955 heady film comedy, Smiles of a Summer Night, which was set at the turn of the last century and follows the affairs of a group of well-to-do types (and their servants) on a lovely summer’s night in Sweden.

There’s the middle-aged lawyer Fredrik, here played by a fastidious Alastair Brookshaw, and his 18-year-old wife Anne (Lucy Keirl) who, after 11 months of marriage, remains a virgin. His son, the neurotic Henrik, is in love with Anne. Fredrik, meanwhile, adores his former mistress, the actress Desiree, played with wonderful poise by Josefina Gabrielle. She already has a lover, the bumptious Count (Alex Hammond) who (of course) has a scheming wife (Phoebe Fildes). It’s exhausting even charting their movements, much less their instruments. I was thinking that Benedict Salter as Henrik seemed stilted but then it can’t be easy acting with a cello round your neck. Musicals are always a triumph of fantasy over reality but it’s especially tricky to carry this off: it’s one thing to burst into song, quite another to do so while toting a flute (Anne) or a trumpet (Fredrik). No wonder their marriage remains unconsummated: they are too busy co-ordinating musical notes.

The matriarch, Madame Armfeldt, mother of Desiree, is played by Dillie Keane with aplomb. It is fun to look over to the side of the set and spot her playing the snare drum. She is full of Wildean witticisms: “To lose a lover or two, over a lifetime, is vexing but to lose one’s teeth is a catastrophe!”

Paul Foster directs and Sarah Travis provides the musical supervision. The music is note perfect and the harmonies mesh but the production doesn’t engage as it should, particularly in the first half, which often seemed a bit stolid. The second perked up, particularly the wonderfully modern dinner party scene, just one of the many transformations of David Woodhead’s traditional but effective set.

At times this production does work, intricately, beautifully, but too often it slips into something that is more workaday. The moon needs to smile just a little more on this.


Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

Watermill lights up the night

A Little Night Music, at The Watermill, Bagnor, until Saturday September, 16

A glittering chandelier hangs over the stage, illuminating Madame Armfeldt's country house. It is a sign of what is to come in this dazzling production of Stephen Sondheim's story of tangled lives and loves that begins with a young girl symbolically adjusting the characters in a miniature theatre.

Suddenly everything goes black, before the stage explodes with wild, extravagant music, dance and song from the actor/musicians. Slightly bewildered, I began to wonder if this was for me, but that feeling was very shortly kicked out of the room and I was utterly hooked till the final bows.

The dialogue is gloriously funny. Dillie Keane as the crippled Madame Armfeldt has many of the best lines and knows exactly how to deliver them. Madame has taken charge of her granddaughter Fredrika (Tilly-Mae Millbrook) to whom she dispenses advice by the bucketful, including an admonition to save the best Champagne for her funeral.

Fredrika's mother Desiree (Josefina Gabrielle) is an actress who has seen better times and, following in her mother's footsteps, a long history of liaisons. One of these was with middle-aged lawyer Fredrik Egerman (Alastair Brookshaw), who brings his young wife Anne (Lucy Keirl) to see Desiree in a play. When Desiree and Fredrik meet again and she learns that his wife of 11 months is still a virgin, she agrees to one more 'favour for an old friend'.

Meanwhile, naive, exuberant Anne is unaware that Fredrik's son, Henrik (Benedict Salter) is in love with her and that her husband has strayed. Another of Desiree's lovers, Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm (Alex Hammond), is fiercely jealous of Fredrik, while his wife Countess Charlotte (Phoebe Fildes) is determined to teach her wandering husband a lesson.

There is much more music and humour from these gifted musicians before this tangled knot is unravelled and love finally prevails.

If you have only heard Send in the Clowns sung in isolation, you will be immensely moved by Gabrielle's heart-rending, wry reflection on life. An unforgettable performance.

While this is the song most connected with the show, there are many more gems. Among them are Fredrik's You Must Meet My Wife, sung to an entertainingly underwhelmed Desiree, the joyous A Weekend in the Country and Christina Tedders as sexy maid, Petra, warning it's a very short road 'from the pinch and the punch to the paunch and the pouch' in The Miller's Son.

A Little Night Music, directed by Paul Foster, is a funny, elegant (the costumes are superb) production about human relationships. The large cast not only bring the characters to vivid life, but do so while making fantastic music, supervised and arranged by Sarah Travis.

See it and marvel.


There are reviews from The Stage ("immaculate... Stephen Sondheim's bittersweet musical masterpiece is revived with intoxicating stylishness" - 5 stars), WhatsOnStage ("this stunning realisation of a work that is at once elegiac, knowing and sexy"), TheReviewsHub ("the cast delivers georgeously... beautifully crafted" - 4 stars), Jonathan Baz ("an extraordinarily talented musical theatre company... quite probably the best musical to have recently opened in the UK... truly unmissable musical theatre" - 5 stars), Musical Theatre Review ("this immaculate revival of surely one of the most perfect pieces of musical theatre ever written is worth going a long way to see" - 5 stars).

There's an interesting article...

... by Tei Williams about the process in staging a Watermill production, from choosing the play through to the opening night. It's here.

Reviews in the Archive

All at Sea! (July 2017)
The Miller's Child (July 2017)
Nesting (July 2017 and on tour)
House and Garden (May 2017)
Twelfth Night (April 2017)
Faust x2 (March 2017)
Murder For Two (January 2017)
Sleeping Beauty (November 2016)
Frankenstein (October 2016)
The Wipers Times (September 2016)
Crazy For You (July 2016)
Watership Down (June 2016)
Untold Stories (May 2016)
One Million Tiny Plays About Britain (April 2016 and on tour)
Romeo and Juliet (February 2016)
Tell Me on a Sunday (January 2016)
Alice in Wonderland (November 2015)
Gormenghast (November 2015) - see the Youth page
The Ladykillers (September 2015)
Oliver! (July 2015)
A Little History of the World (July 2015 and on tour)
Between the Lines (July 2015)
The Deep Blue Sea (June 2015)
Far From the Madding Crowd (April 2015)
Tuxedo Junction (March 2015)
The Secret Adversary (February 2015)
Peter Pan (November 2014)
But First This (October 2014)
Twelfth Night (November 2014) - see the Youth page
Journey's End (September 2014)
Calamity Jane (July 2014)
The Boxford Masques - Joe Soap's Masquerade (July 2014)
Hardboiled - the Fall of Sam Shadow (July 2014)
A Bunch of Amateurs (May 2014)
Sense and Sensibility (April 2014)
Life Lessons (March 2014)
All My Sons (February 2014)
The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (January 2014)
Pinocchio (November 2013)
Sherlock's Last Case (September 2013)
Romeo+Juliet (September 2013 and on tour)
The Witches of Eastwick (July 2013)
Laurel & Hardy (June 2013)
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (May 2013)
The Miser (April 2013)
David Copperfield (March 2013)
Sleuth (February 2013)
Arabian Nights (November 2012)
The Tempest (September 2012)
Thoroughly Modern Millie (August 2012)
Boxford Masques (July 2012)
Ben Hur (June 2012)
Of Mice and Men (May 2012)
Love on the Tracks (April 2012 and on tour)
Henry V and The Winter's Tale (April 2012)
Lettice and Lovage (February 2012)
The Wind in the Willows (November 2011)
Some Like It Hotter (November 2011 and on tour)
Great Expectations (September 2011)
Radio Times (August 2011)
The Marriage of Figaro (July 2011)
Moonlight and Magnolias (May 2011)
Richard III and The Comedy of Errors (April 2011)
The Clodly Light Opera and Drama Society (March 2011)
Relatively Speaking (February 2011)
Treasure Island (November 2010)
Single Spies (September 2010)
Copacabana (July 2010)
Daisy Pulls It Off (June 2010)
Brontë (April 2010)
Raising Voices (March 2010)
Confused Love (March 2010)
Heroes (February 2010)
James and the Giant Peach (November 2009)
Educating Rita (October 2009)
Spend Spend Spend! (July 2009 and September 2010)
Blithe Spirit (May 2009)
Bubbles (April to May and September to October 2009)
A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Merchant of Venice (March 2009)
Life X 3 (January 2009)
Matilda and Duffy's Stupendous Space Adventure (November 2008)
The Sirens' Call (November 2008)
Our Country's Good (September 2008)
See Newbury Dramatic Society for a review of The Recruiting Officer (October 2008)
Sunset Boulevard (July 2008)
Boxford Masques - Knight and Day (July 2008)
Black Comedy and The Bowmans (May 2008)
London Assurance (April 2008)
Micky Salberg's Crystal Ballroom Dance Band (April 2008 and on tour)
Great West Road (March 2008)
Merrily We Roll Along (March 2008)
Honk! (November 2007)
Rope (September 2007)
Martin Guerre (July 2007)
Twelfth Night (June 2007)
The Story of a Great Lady (April and September 2007, and on tour)
The Rise and Fall of Little Voice (April 2007)
For Services Rendered (March 2007)
Plunder (January 2007)
The Snow Queen (November 2006)
Peter Pan in Scarlet (October 2006)
The Taming of the Shrew (September 2006 and on tour in 2007)
Hot Mikado (July 2006 and September 2009)
Boxford Masques: The Crowning of the Year (July 2006)
Hobson's Choice (May 2006)
Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea (April 2006)
Tartuffe (February 2006)
The Jungle Book (November 2005)
The Gilded Lilies (October 2005)
Copenhagen (September 2005)
The Garden of Llangoed (September 2005 and September 2006)
Thieves' Carnival (July 2005)
The Shed (July 2005)
Mack and Mabel (May 2005)
The Odyssey (May 2005)
Broken Glass (April 2005)
The Winter's Tale (January 2005)
Arabian Nights (December 2004)
See Newbury Dramatic Society for a review of Whose Life is it Anyway? (November 2004)
Multiplex (November 2004)
Neville's Island (September 2004)
The Comedian (September 2004 and March 2005)
Raising Voices Again (September 2004)
Pinafore Swing (July 2004)
The Venetian Twins (May 2004)
The Gentleman from Olmedo (April 2004)
Mr & Mrs Schultz (March 2004 and on tour)
Sweeney Todd (February 2004)
The Emperor and the Nightingale (November 2003)
See Newbury Dramatic Society for a review of An Ideal Husband (November 2003)
A Star Danced (September 2003)
The Fourth Fold (September 2003)
The Last Days of the Empire (July 2003)
Accelerate (July 2003)
Dreams from a Summer House (May 2003)
The Triumph of Love (April 2003)
Gigolo (March 2003)
Raising Voices (March 2003)
A Midsummer Night's Dream (February 2003)
The Firebird (November 2002)
Ten Cents a Dance (September 2002)
Dancing at Lughnasa (July 2002)
Love in a Maze (June 2002)
Fiddler on the Roof (April 2002)
I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls (March 2002 and March 2006)
Only a Matter of Time (February 2002)
Cinderella and the Enchanted Slipper (November 2001)
Piaf (October 2001)
The Merchant of Venice (October 2001)
Witch (September 2001)
The Clandestine Marriage (August 2001)
The Importance of Being Earnest (May 2001)
Gondoliers (March 2001)
Rose Rage (February 2001)
Carmen (July 2000)