It seems strange to profess a love of Chichester Festival Theatre without ever having actually gone to the venue itself, but none the less I do love it. Chichester has delivered me fantastic productions of Sweeney Todd, Singin In The Rain and (my favourite) The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui in recent years. Fabulous additions to the body of work on the West End they were!
Having read the RAVE reviews of Imelda Staunton in Chichester’s production of Arthur Laurents’ and Stephen Sondheim’s Gypsy, I decided that I couldn’t wait for this production to arrive on my doorstep in London and that instead I would go to it. Oh my god I am glad I did!
Whilst being a Chichester virgin, I had also never seen a production of Gypsy until now. What unfolded before my eyes over just shy of three hours was pure theatrical gold. This show had everything and some! It has singing farmers, little patriotic princesses, burlesque performers, a blooming COW (!) oh…and most important of all, it had powerhouse Imelda Staunton at its helm.
Gypsy, a show roughly based on the real life dalliances of Gypsy Rose Lee, is essentially a tale of a mother sent straight from the fiery pits of Hades. Although she DOES get results god bless her. And who better to play the crazed and slightly klepto matriarch, Momma Rose, than the unstoppable Ms Staunton, who takes to the role like a fish to water and floods the audiences with her ferocity. Her zealous acting and outrageously on point vocal performances were a true pleasure to witness; it is clear Ms Staunton is one of the greatest actresses of our time.
Alongside Staunton is a full and stellar cast. Kevin Whately masters the character of the long suffering Herbie and Georgina Pemberton shines as Baby June, providing the show with its early stand out numbers. “Adult” June, Gemma Sutton, is also a treat and I am almost sad that Laurents neglected her in the second act, but I understand the crucial poignancy of the decision.
It became clear to me by the middle of the second act that Lara Pulver, “adult” Louise, is endlessly talented. She portrays a shrinking violet of a tomboy only to blossom and flower by the end of the show, becoming the sexy and sassy “Gypsy Rose Lee.” What a great role, and what a great actress to play it.
Stephen Mear’s Choreography is VERY clever in that he truly made Momma Rose’s dance routines seem like they were just that – Momma Rose’s. He also has the fantastically diverse task of creating movement from small scale dance numbers, to crazy dances in a farm yard to big razzle dazzle burlesque numbers with Ostrich feathers! It was a joy to watch and his work more than brought the piece alive.
Complimenting Mear and Kent’s work was Anthony Ward’s pleasing stage designs. By installing a moving proscenium arch to frame the play, Ward hinted at meta-theatricality. At times it was almost as if Momma Rose had had her hand in the visualisation of the show too. Nice.
Gypsy is peppered with FANTASTIC musical numbers and this production very much brought to life Jule Styne’s music and Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics. Most animated were “Let Me Entertain You,” “Farm Sequence” (oh good GOD I LOVED IT!) and “You Gotta Get a Gimmick.” “Rose’s Turn” at the end of Act Two was a true climax as Momma Rose became unstuck, it was airing on the unsettling to watch.
All in all, Gypsy was 100% worth the 5 hour round journey to Chichester from my London home. Aside from the show being a true masterpiece that NEEDS to transfer, it was nice to get out the city for a day and escape to a magical land where programmes and ice creams are much cheaper, toilet facilities are actually nice and the theatre seats are comfortable! Well done Chichester Festival Theatre, Well done Jonathan Kent, Stephen Mear, bubbling orchestra, fabulous cast and Her Royal Majesty, Queen of the Stage, Miss Imelda Staunton.
Staunton and Kent are fast becoming the dream team in theatre. Here’s to many more collaborations!