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Review: Marry Me a Little (Stage Door Theatre)

Review by Sophie Wilby


⭐️⭐️⭐️


Marry Me a Little is the inaugural show for the new Stage Door Theatre in Convent Garden, the first (and only) pop-up pub theatre in the West End. Created by Craig Lucas and Norman Rene, the revue lovingly brings together a selection of mostly ‘trunk’ songs from the Sondheim songbook which were cut from other Sondheim sensations such as Anyone Can Whistle, Follies, Company, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and A Little Night Music as well as his then-unproduced musical Saturday Night

 

With a cast of two, Marry Me a Little is a dialogue-free show that invites us into the apartments of two unnamed singletons spending a Saturday evening alone, lamenting their romantic past and futures. In this rendition, the characters of ‘Man’ (Markus Sodergreen) and ‘Woman’ (Shelley Rivers) are alike in their loneliness but are at different points in their love lives. Throughout the show, it becomes evident that Man is recently single, following a break-up that he is clearly still grappling with. Woman, on the other hand, is single and looking to mingle, ending the show dressed as if ready for a date. 



And these different journeys are reflected in the lighting designed by Richard Lambert. Most often, when alone on stage, Man is shrouded in a darker, blue-tinted light (so much so that he wouldn’t look out of place in the music video for Eiffel’s 65 iconic one-hit wonder) while Woman’s lighting was mostly pink tinted and noticeably brighter on stage.

 

Though living in their separate apartments, set designer David Shield created one studio flat with Man and Woman moving around each other without interacting. This serves to create moments of humour throughout, with the characters inhabiting the same space and though coming close, never looking at one another. It could be suggested that this design also represents the similarities of their positions in life, as well as to hint that if brought together, Man and Woman could be the solution to each other’s loneliness. This is a suggestion that’s similarly reflected in their duets, particularly ‘Your Eyes are Blue’ (originally from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) whereby the lyric “there was a wall between them” hints towards their close but separated proximity.   



This is an example of the revue or jukebox musical format working well for this show, but unfortunately, such a style of show is always at risk of being a little hit-and-miss when it comes to successfully incorporating existing songs into a new story, and Marry Me a Little is no exception to this, with certain songs such as ‘The Girls of Summer’ (originally from The Girls of Summer) feeling a little unnecessary and failing to add anything to the development of the story.

 

This really is an example of my general feeling towards the show - that it was one in which the development of a story was second to a desire to showcase some of Sondheim’s (at the time) lesser-known work. With two unnamed characters and an absence of dialogue, it is perhaps unsurprising that the story is secondary in this show which at its heart, is simply a celebration of Sondheim’s music.  If you’re a fan of Sondheim, then it’s fair to say that you will be a fan of this musical revue. 60 minutes spent listening to one of the theatre world’s greatest lyricists was certainly not an unpleasant way to spend an evening particularly when they were performed consistently beautifully by both Shelley Rivers and Markus Sodergreen. But I had hoped for more of the story to shine through and even though it was a simple one, it deserved more attention. In doing so, this would only serve to really bring the songs to life and further embolden them with meaning.



The show is successful in finding the moments of humour and sorrow within Sondheim’s lyrics - often divided between the Woman, ready to find love, and the Man who has been burned by love. For instance, when performing ‘Can That Boy Foxtrot’ (originally from Follies), Shelly Rivers' euphemistic extension of the ‘f’ sound when performing ‘Can That Boy Foxtrot’ compared with a beautifully earnest rendition of ‘It wasn’t meant to happen’ (also from Follies) delivered by Markus Sodergreen whilst holding an engagement ring. 

 

But these moments would be all the more amusing and powerful if they fell within a clear, well-told story. Throughout, it is the use of props alongside the songs that attempt to illustrate the story to us. This is done clearly with Man, who spends time singing to a framed photo of a woman before packing items we assume were those of his ex-partner into a cardboard box. In this way, his story was clear and we can guess that the breakup was a recent one. The story of Woman, however, was less clear and her use of props felt random at times. At the risk of alienating myself from the theatre community, I will say that typically, dialogue-free musicals are not my favourite (don’t come for me Les Mis fans, I can still sing an impressive one-woman repertoire of One Day More when required). And in this case, I can’t help but feel that some dialogue would have been beneficial to really make the story clear. 

 


Sondheim’s lyrics were relied on to tell a story that they were not directly written for, and this shows. If you were to put this attempt to tell a story aside, then it would certainly be a revue I would recommend to fans of Sondheim. At the intimate venue, it’s a chance to get up close and personal with the Sondheim songbook, particularly as under musical direction by Aaron Clingham, a sole keyboard accompanies the vocals of the cast which really serves to give precedence to the lyrics themselves. There is often a pressure associated with performing his works, which have been done so famously in the past, and both Shelly Rivers and Markus Sodergreen do not disappoint. 

 

Marry Me a Little plays at Stage Door Theatre until April 13th

 

For tickets and information visit https://www.stagedoortheatre.co.uk

 

Photos by Peter Davies

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