Theatre Review: Opening Night

Poster for Opening Night.Opening Night is complex, fascinating, and flawed.

It is baffling that this is somehow less than the sum of its parts. The acting and singing are incredible - Nicola Hughes in particular has a magnificent stage presence. The directing and staging is wonderfully innovative - giving even the most distant seat a close-up view. The songs are all great - with "You gotta make magic" a standout hit. The whole ensemble comes together in a perfect display of a what a West End musical is supposed to be.

And yet... there's nothing there. Part of the problem is the paper-thin and scattershot story. An actress doesn't like her part because... ummm... she's not old enough? She sort of manifests a younger version of herself, but that's never really explored. There's a bit of sexual tension which doesn't really have an emotional arc.

The use of handheld cameras to project the action on screen (similar to The Mind Mangler down the street) makes the whole thing feel more cinematic. When people are paying a fortune for nose-bleed seats, they deserve a decent view of the action. But, like any gig, I sometimes felt I was watching the screen more than the stage. At which point I might as well have been home watching it on Netflix rather than paying a tenner for a glass of wine. It also suffers from the same problem as the movie version of Les Mis; the actors are doing stage acting - designed to project emotions to vast distances - when caught on camera it can look like a little ridiculous.

There's very little space for audience appreciation, which is weird. In most musicals, there's a suitable pause after each big number so the audience can applaud. Due to the naturalistic way the show is presented, many songs immediately segue into dialogue - which means a smattering of applause quickly withers on the vine.

Sheridan Smith dominates the stage. She is an utter powerhouse, giving it her all. The rest of the cast - including a tragically underused Amy Lennox from Cabaret - are spectacular. The various background players make for an impressive Greek Chorus. It is impossible to fault their performances.

It's just their performances are in service of such a mediocre and incoherent story. Even at the end I was left confused about what I'd just seen. There's no particular resolution, the characters aren't especially sympathetic, and there's nothing interesting to be said afterwards.

If you're happy to be swept along by the spectacle, and don't want to think too hard about the plot, characters, or meaning, then it is a fine night out. I just found it a bit incoherent.

But, at the end, the rest of the audience rose for a standing ovation - so what do I know?


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