Everyone knows The Sound Of Music. We’ve all hummed a refrain of ‘My Favourite Things’ or yodelled ‘The Lonely Goatherd’ at one time or another. Whilst the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical will long be associated with Julie Andrews bounding about in the mountains, it has also garnered a particular reputation off the back of ITV’s How Do You Solve a Problem like Maria? and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s subsequent populist revival in 2006. However, free from the shackles of reality television, director Rachel Kavanaugh has re-imagined the musical. Through her creativity and attention to detail, the well-known story has been granted new life within the idyllic Regent’s Park, and is told as if for the first time.
The plot, as you well know, follows the Austrian von Trapp family, first subjected to the arrival of inexperienced governess, Maria Rainer, and then encroached upon by Nazis, who permeate through (and from within) the walls of their home. Every character has been considered and developed with great care, without a hint of impersonation or pretence – not a stock character in sight, not a moment wasted and nothing played gratuitously for laughs or ‘aahs.’ Whether it is the seemingly loyal family Butler Franz, or the flibbertigibbet protagonist Maria, each relationship and every subtle motivating factor comes to surface.
This fresh, truthful rendering of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1959 classic is funny, moving and romantic.
We are immediately enchanted by Charlotte Wakefield’s Maria as she descends enthusiastically through the crowd during the title song. The energy with which Wakefield delivers each line, devouring every syllable, unlocks yet unsung facets of the character and layers of meaning within the lyrics. She masters the technically difficult sing, and is, at all times, loveable and warm. Helen Hobson is younger than those to have previously played Mother Abbess, but wisdom and experience emanate from within her. Hobson’s gravitas and youth makes Reverend Mother’s allowances and reasonable leniency with Maria, if anything, more believable.
Alistair David’s sharp, original choreography works well throughout but specifically enables us to warm to the seven, individual von Trapp children, who are drilled and yet characterful, assembled and yet animated, all the while longing for a mother and father’s love and attention. Peter McKintosh’s design is simple and functional; the surrounding walls form at once the abbey, the von Trapp family home, the Kaltzberg concert hall and the welcoming mountains of Salzburg. As Hitler’s hold over Austria strengthens, soldiers surround the audience, approaching from the bridges and walkways that dissect the auditorium.
A few nerves and some static staging aside, this fresh, truthful rendering of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1959 classic is funny, moving and romantic. (It could be described as the E.T. of musical theatre.) Not even a soggy bottom and a tango-orange poncho could dampen the stormy atmosphere conjured by Kavanaugh’s Sound of Music at the magical Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre.
**** (4 stars)
Runs until 7th September 2013