The Lowry Lyric Theatre, Salford Quays
There’s no other option but to own up on this one – I have always hated this musical. I appreciate that I’m in a minority here, because as blockbusters go, it’s one of the most successful of all time, with an ardent following of die hard fans, the kind of people who will happily camp out for weeks in order to secure a ticket – but I’ve always found its uneasy mix of syrupy songs, precocious children and the most unthreatening Nazis ever seen on stage or screen, somewhat hard to stomach. Just a few bars of ‘The Hills Are Alive…’ and I’m a kid again, trapped at home on a drizzly Sunday afternoon, with my parents watching the film on television and commenting on how ‘nice’ Julie Andrews seems.
So naturally, I approached this assignment with some trepidation. The Lyric theatre was packed with eager punters as the overture began and then the curtain rose and we were in a (pretty convincing) nunnery where four ladies in black habits were asking us how they could possibly solve a problem like Maria (The Voice finalist, Lucy O Byrne). The next thing we know, she’s been enlisted as governess to the seven children of war hero Captain Von Trapp (Gray O’ Brian) and is teaching them that doe is a female deer and ray, a drop of golden sun…
It’s pointless to go over the plot because unless you’ve lived as a hermit all your life, you’ll surely already know exactly what happens. And here’s the thing. Though I can appreciate how professionally this production is delivered – perfectly judged harmonies, elaborate sets that glide effortlessly into place, faultless choreography, this isn’t going to change my mind about Rodgers and Hammerstein’s greatest success. It still feels like treacle pudding with extra treacle. But neither can I reasonably criticise the way its been done (other than to observe that Mr O’ Brian was having a bit of a bad night of it in the vocal department) and neither can I deny the warmth of the standing ovation enjoyed by the cast at the end, with a particularly enthusiastic response given to Jan Hartley as the Mother Abbess, whose climactic rendition of Climb Every Mountain was delivered with enough energy to power the National Grid.
So I’ll simply say this. If The Sound of Music is already a favourite of yours, you’re unlikely to feel shortchanged by this production. If you’re coming to it with no expectations whatsoever, you may find yourself wondering what all the fuss is about.