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The Sound of Music at BGE Theatre: Darkness of story is swamped by saccharine optimism

The Sound of Music

Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin - Until February 1

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Do-Re-Mi: Andrew Lancel, Clelia Murphy and Emilie Fleming with children from the cast of The Sound of Music. Photo by 
Brian McEvoy

Do-Re-Mi: Andrew Lancel, Clelia Murphy and Emilie Fleming with children from the cast of The Sound of Music. Photo by Brian McEvoy

Do-Re-Mi: Andrew Lancel, Clelia Murphy and Emilie Fleming with children from the cast of The Sound of Music. Photo by Brian McEvoy

First produced on Broadway in 1959, less than 15 years after the end of WWII, this popular musical is probably best known to Irish audiences as the 1965 film starring Julie Andrews. With music and lyrics by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, and a book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, it is broadly based on the memoir of Maria Augusta von Trapp, an ­Austrian private tutor who married her employer.

The story tells of a young postulant nun Maria, sent as a governess to the house of a widowed naval commander Georg von Trapp, to tutor his seven children. It is 1938, and the eve of the Nazi annexation of Austria. Captain von Trapp is intending to get married to glamorous widow Elsa Schraeder, but his Austrian nationalism makes him a tricky catch for a Viennese businesswoman on the make.

Her colleague, the musical impresario Max Detweiler, is organising a concert and wants the Von Trapp children to sing at it. The songs are indeed catchy and memorable, but they are so ingrained in the culture that it is impossible to listen to them with a fresh ear.

Megan Llewellyn as the Mother Abbess dominates the stage with her rich voice and easy charisma. Emilie Fleming as Maria lacks the necessary wild edge, especially in her opening rendition of the title song. Irish star Clelia Murphy makes a nicely opportunistic Elsa. Howard Samuels' morally complex Max is the most interesting figure on the stage; he is typical of the type of character that surfaces frequently in Nazi narratives, the collaborator who reveals a good side in the end.

The design job is perfunctory. Columns fly in and out to create the Abbey. The home is dominated by a curved staircase. The images of mountains in the background are lacklustre.

Martin Connor's direction feels timid. Telegraph boy Rolf's hugely important moment of loyalty to eldest daughter Liesl is rushed at the end. The party to introduce Elsa towards the close of Act 1 should be redolent with political tension on the eve of the Nazi Anschluss; instead it is vaguely shaped. The politics are not given the necessary foregrounding and space.

There are two competing aesthetics at play: the saccharine optimism of 'My Favourite Things' contrasts with the stark patriotic loss of 'Edelweiss'. This production foregrounds the cute over the gritty political - the darkness of the story gets swamped. The bombardment of feel-good will make the more cynical members of the audience want to run for the hills.

 

Gone Full Havisham

Bewley's Café Theatre, Dublin Until February 1

Emily is holed up in a hotel room live-broadcasting her mental breakdown with hashtag #gonefullhavisham. She has been there for five months, wearing her now scruffy wedding dress; she takes social media messages from the public who ask her to brush her teeth and vote on whether or not she should eat her dinner.

Written and performed by Irene Kelleher, the show describes with biting insight the destructiveness of the classic fairy tale that has a wedding as the happy ending.

What is most affecting here is that Emily had a super father, who valued her brain and refused to let his daughter be reduced to the status of merely a pretty girl. Despite these positive childhood influences, a nightmare of ghoulish femininity would capture her anyway, once a manipulative man got her in his sights.

This is a spectacular performance by Kelleher; it is both dramatic and moving. She is directed with punchy courage by Regina Crowley. Cormac O'Connor's video and sound design adds a stylish hi-tech ambience to this contemporary world. Told in Cork cadences, presented by Patrick Talbot Productions, this is a memorable show with an original and angry take on feminine distress in a wedding dress.

Indo Review