Friday, 11 October 2013

Review: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, New Wimbledon

"That was some mighty fine dancing"

Seven young men enter a backwoods Oregon town, kidnap a woman each - with the intention of making them their wives - and escort them back to their mountainside home where a subsequent avalanche traps up there for the winter, leaving family and suitors unable to rescue them. Such is the premise, more or less, of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers but being a classic film musical of the 1950s, it is less a hillbilly horror flick and more of a rollicking romp of lumberjacking lotharios and one which now find itself in a tour of UK theatres. 

Director and choreographer extraordinaire Patti Colombo has worked her considerable magic on the show to make it a stunning visual treat, however there’s no escaping the huge improbabilities and weaknesses of the story. Of course, one shouldn’t be taking such a thing at all seriously, but it does impact on the way the show is delivered, whether the actors try to find the inner soul of a character and play it honestly or just go all out with a knowing smile and plenty of pizazz. And I’m not too sure that this production really straddles that line all too well. 

As the leads, Sam Attwater and Helena Blackman go for an earnest seriousness which doesn’t really sit that well – his Adam whisks her Milly into married not-quite-bliss just after seeing her chop some wood and she ups sticks and is installed in his home by the end of the evening – and lacking any real chemistry to begin with, their partnership can never really be taken seriously. Things pick up as he reveals the housemates he forgot to mention, his six wild younger brothers, and she sets about trying to tame them into respectable members of society who might just be able to get themselves a wife like her. 

This she does by giving etiquette lessons and teaching them to dance so that they can attend the forthcoming village social, and though Colombo fudges their transition from clod-hoppers to cool-tappers, the physical exuberance shown by the bare-chested boys is undeniable. And when they finally make it to the dance, the show explodes with a sensational piece of choreography which has to be seen to be believed as the brothers do (dance) battle with the village boys for the attentions of the girls with an exhilarating display of moves, flips, kicks, tosses, props, spins etc that truly deserve the raucous reception they receive.

Does the show ever match this section late in the first act? Not really, the sheer number of characters – 7 each of brothers, brides and suitors plus assorted family members means that there’s little opportunity for any sense of character to emerge throughout the ensemble. Sam Stones and Elisha Rose Sherman as Frank and Sarah come closest, leaving me wanting more of their sparky partnership instead of the sweetly bland Jack Greaves and Georgina Parkinson as respective babies of the family, Gideon and Alice.

And though there are two more excellent dance sequences, neither really hit the same heights as the rumble, and some shaky stage management means that scene changes are really rather clunky. The final reunion between Adam and Milly eventually brings the much needed emotional connection between the pair, Blackman having done really rather well for herself without him up until that point, but this is a show in which to switch off anything serious and just enjoy some glorious choreography from a fiercely talented cast. 

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 12th October, then touring to Crewe, Manchester, Aylesbury, Cheltenham, Blackpool, Sunderland and Glasgow

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