Merrily We Roll Along
Menier Chocolate Factory Production
Harold Pinter Theatre, London
Wednesday 29th May 2013
Holding the record for the most 5 star reviews of any musical in West End history, Merrily We Roll Along has successfully transferred across the river from the Menier Chocolate Factory for a strictly limited 12 week run at the Harold Pinter Theatre. A relatively small scale show in many ways, we follow a trio of dear old friends backwards through time.
Opening in 1976 at a high flying party hosted by Franklin Shepard, best friend Mary's drunken rants and insults cause her to be asked to leave and we realise that the relationship between three old friends has gradually been falling apart. As we track back through time we begin to understand how these friendships began to break down, and how such a bond was formed in the first place.
Not an unusual story, to see the ideals of a group of hope-filled students dissolve as their lives take directions they don't intend. However to see this tale in reverse - to meet the characters at their most unhappy and then via the ups and downs of their lives see them as young optimistic students at the end of the show, so full of talent and hope for the future - makes a genuinely profound statement that is both breathtakingly captivating and extremely moving.
That isn't to say that the show is downbeat throughout, as there is much humour to be found in the excellent book and engaging score, as well as an entire company full of exceptional performances. Sondheim is a master of the art of storytelling through music, and the numbers in this show manage to create at different moments both a depth to the characters and a light relief from the palpable sadness one cannot help but feel as more and more of the tale in unveiled.
This is a treat of a production for musical fans who enjoy a more plot-centric show, with real and flawed characters to whom you can relate and a story that will stay with you long after the show is over. Glorious.