Any piece of classic theatre worthy of the name ought to be strong enough to withstand a dose of robust revisionism. This pertains for musicals just as much as straight plays; a fresh look, clearing away accumulated layers of performance history, can be revelatory. Daniel Fish’s production of the 1943 Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, one of the crown jewels of the golden age of Broadway musicals, won the 2019 Tony Award for Best Musical Revival with its stripped-down take on life on the American frontier.

I’ll come clean straight away and say that I didn’t find the show quite as revelatory as it seems to find itself. It’s certainly self-satisfied, in a manner that can occasionally tip over into the effortful. Nonetheless, it does have a lot to be pleased with, not least the way it jolts us straight out of our received idea of Oklahoma as a ye-haw jolly knee-slapping sort of set-up. This version of frontier country is stark: an uncompromising place of rough justice where community is essential and an outsider can be cruelly baited and turned upon. It’s also a place where sexual tension thrums and simmers constantly and, for all those pretty songs, animal instincts are what drive the characters on.

The action starts with the house lights up and the cast, in the dress of modern line dancers, sitting around long pine tables. The only pieces of set décor are startling racks of guns plastered all over the walls, a fierce reminder that it’s life or death out there. A stylishly reconfigured stalls arrangement sees the band on full view in the scooped-out orchestra pit at the front. For much of the duration, those house lights stay on, pinning the characters in an unrelenting gaze.

In this dazy atmosphere, Arthur Darvill’s Curly swaggers about with a deliciously devil-may-care attitude, strumming on his guitar and allowing his voice to slide occasionally into a disarming falsetto. There’s certainly something between him and Laurey (Anoushka Lucas), but Lucas plays her as puzzlingly blanched of emotion. Georgina Onuorah has great fun as the flighty Ado Annie and there’s fine work from Liza Sadovy as a no-nonsense Aunt Eller.

Georgina Onuorah (Ado Annie) and James Patrick Davis (Will Parker) in Oklahoma! Photo by Marc Brenner Oklahoma Wyndham's Theatre Provided by georgie@katemorleypr.com
Georgina Onuorah as Ado Annie and James Patrick Davis as Will Parker in the show (Photo: Marc Brenner)

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Patrick Vaill brings an unsettling clarity to farmhand Jud’s loneliness and solitary thoughts. There is a whisper of homoerotic charge to the meeting between him and Curly, when a camera thrust close up shows both men’s faces as Curly sings “Pore Jud is Daid”, a song that sounds even more disturbing in this iteration. The second half lets rip with the foot-stomping, but it’s the opposite of an uncomplicated celebration as marriage and death ensue. It might be, as per the famous opening number, a “Beautiful Mornin’”, yet the day is anything but unclouded.

Until Sept 2 (0344 482 5151, OklahomaWestEnd.com)

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