Keep up-to-date on your favourite artists and movies, track gig and release dates, and join in the conversation.
Want more? Listen to our discussion of 'National Theatre Live: Follies' on SWITCHCast
259 feature films. 19 days. 1 city. The 2019 Melbourne International Film Festival was a huge success - check out our reviews here!x
review, Follies, Follies, film, movie, latest movies, new movie, movie ratings, current movie reviews, latest films, recent movies, current movies, movie critics, new movie reviews, latest movie reviews, latest movies out, the latest movies, review film, latest cinema releases, Australian reviews, cinema, cinema reviews, Imelda Staunton, Philip Quast, Tracie Bennett, Janie Dee, Peter Forbes, Musical film rating




By Daniel Lammin
9th February 2018

No single artist looms larger over the musical theatre canon than Stephen Sondheim. Across the second half of the last century, his work pushed the form and explored radical ideas of musical and narrative storytelling, with many now counted among the greatest works of musical theatre. Recently, the National Theatre in London took up the challenge of staging one of Sondheim’s most ambitious works, the 1971 musical ‘Follies’, and Australian audiences have the chance to see this acclaimed production themselves as part of the 2018 National Theatre Live season.

Set in New York in 1971, ‘Follies’ captures one night in the soon-to-be demolished Weisman Theatre. Before the building is torn down, stars from its legendary Follies review come together to reminisce. They share drinks, tell stories and revisit old routines, but the ghosts of the past are always haunting them - who they were, who they wanted to be, and who they eventually became.

‘Follies’ is one of Sondheim’s least-staged works, mostly because of its enormously ambitious scale. At two and a half hours without an interval, and requiring a cast of almost 40 performers, it needs an infrastructure many companies simply cannot support. It’s also the first time Sondheim experimented with the idea of a musical without a narrative (something he would later perfect with ‘Company’), which means that unlike the more commercial musicals, ‘Follies’ demands attention and engagement from its audience. This is what makes it an extraordinary work: a dense and rich meditation on age, growing old, the ghost of the past and abandoning your dreams. Sondheim’s score plays with pastiche, drawing on the many musical forms of the Follies, mixing vaudeville and Broadway ballads with his own exacting, detailed style. James Goldman’s book holds the work together, offering each character their moment to not only shine but to break down. Sally Durant (Imelda Staunton) and Phyllis Rogers (Janie Dee) are the closest thing ‘Follies’ has to protagonists, and their reunion at this party sparks off old affections and deep rivalries, especially around Phyllis’ husband Ben (Philip Quast). Their past selves wander around the theatre like ghosts, always present and watching, and this clever dramaturgical device allows us to see where they’ve come from, and how very unfulfilled they now are. Unlike many musicals, the characters of ‘Follies’ aren’t young and fresh and optimistic. We are seeing them at the end of their lines, and the deep regret they have at not following on the dreams and promises they spun dancing and singing in this very hall is heartbreaking to watch.


For their production, the National Theatre and director Dominic Cooke spent years in preparation, and that shows off in the enormous spectacle of this production. Vicki Mortimer’s design is extraordinary, the crumbling walls of the theatre liked a bombed-out battleground, with the faded flowers of these women stumbling around lost within them, followed by an endless stream of their ghosts. The performances are tremendous across the board, with Staunton embracing Sally’s crippling regret to heartbreaking effect. The Follies women are the highlight of the show, every one shining in the stunning musical moments Sondheim offers them. The stand-out though is Janie Dee, who bites into the complicated fury of Phyllis with relish. Watching her spar with her fellow characters is endlessly thrilling.

Cooke’s direction is a bit of a mixed bag - moments like the Mirror Dance sequence or the Follies revue that brings the show to a crashing end are handled beautifully, taking advantage of the spectacle in the score, cast and design. The device of having the younger selves present though isn’t always well-handled, and it takes a while to realise this is who these figures represent. The rules of the production around who can see who and when is never clear, which ends up muddying an already complicated viewing experience. There’s so much about this production that works, but this detail in particular lessens its potential impact.

This... is what makes it an extraordinary work, a dense and rich meditation on age, growing old, the ghost of the past and abandoning your dreams.

I also suspect that much is lost by seeing this spectacle on film as opposed to in the theatre, though they do their best to capture its scale, and the intimacy of the camera captures smaller moments and details in the performances that many in the theatre may have missed. Much like ‘Salomé’, ‘Follies’ is far too big a production to be well-served by the NT Live format, but in this case, the attention to detail does still make for an engaging experience.

By not adhering to our traditional concept of what a musical is, ‘Follies’ asks more from its audience than many will be willing to accept. At our screening, there were somewhere around fifteen walkouts during the screening, a befuddling number the likes I haven’t seen before. That isn’t a reflection of the work itself though - it’s an often extraordinary, deeply moving musical, one that takes the time to consider what it is to grow old and to realise you left your dreams behind, to regret and to hurt and to fight for what potential you have left. While the direction isn’t always successful, the design and the performances still make it a great production, and an opportunity to see this rarely-performed work fully unleashed.

RELEASE DATE: 17/02/2018
RUN TIME: 2h 35m
CAST: Imelda Staunton
Philip Quast
Tracie Bennett
Janie Dee
Peter Forbes
WRITER: Stephen Sondheim
Amazing Grace - A stunning moment from Aretha Franklin's life
TRENDINGWIN AMAZING GRACEA stunning moment from Aretha Franklin's life
The Nightingale - A dark, vengeful song
The Seer and the Unseen - Elves and environmentalism under the Northern Lights
TRENDINGTHE SEER AND THE UNSEENElves and environmentalism under the Northern Lights
The Australian Dream - The conversation Australia needs to have
TRENDINGTHE AUSTRALIAN DREAMThe conversation Australia needs to have
Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan - Close to home
Portrait of a Lady on Fire - A perfect film on the language of desire
TRENDINGPORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIREA perfect film on the language of desire
Double Lover - Softcore pornography for cinephiles
TRENDINGDOUBLE LOVERSoftcore pornography for cinephiles
The Keeper - The true story of the Nazi goalkeeper and the English girl
TRENDINGTHE KEEPERThe true story of the Nazi goalkeeper and the English girl
Take Me Somewhere Nice - The road less travelled
And Then We Danced - A passionate and remarkable classic in the making
TRENDINGAND THEN WE DANCEDA passionate and remarkable classic in the making
The Day Shall Come - A hilarious take on a flawed system
TRENDINGTHE DAY SHALL COMEA hilarious take on a flawed system
Parasite - A bloodthirsty and very funny look at class warfare
TRENDINGPARASITEA bloodthirsty and very funny look at class warfare
2040 - A hopeful look into our environmental future
TRENDING2040A hopeful look into our environmental future
Rampant - Ho-hum historical Korean zombie thrills
TRENDINGRAMPANTHo-hum historical Korean zombie thrills
Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw - Very furious, not so fast
TRENDINGFAST & FURIOUS: HOBBS & SHAWVery furious, not so fast
The Final Quarter - Tackling a shameful chapter in AFL history
TRENDINGTHE FINAL QUARTERTackling a shameful chapter in AFL history
Standing Up For Sunny - A comedy without the comedy but very sweet
TRENDINGSTANDING UP FOR SUNNYA comedy without the comedy but very sweet
Claire Darling - A French film fail
The Odd Family: Zombie on Sale - An extremely silly zomedy
The Angry Birds Movie 2 - Flying a little bit higher the second time around
TRENDINGTHE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE 2Flying a little bit higher the second time around
© 2011 - 2019 midnightproductions
All rights reserved

Support SWITCH | Disclaimer | Contact Us