17 February 2010 by Published in: Theatre Tags:, , No comments yet

Amanda Hodges reviews the Wyndham’s production of Sunday in the park with George.

It’s rare and inspirational indeed to come across a production where everything blends with perfect precision. Just as George Seurat was renowned for his innovative technique and prescient vision as an artist, so the Menier Chocolate Factory’s production of Sondheim & Lapine’s musical- now transferring to the West End- utilises compelling new computer projection to bring the painter’s world to richly unforgettable life.

“Musically this Sondheim collaboration doesn’t have any stand-out numbers in particular but achieves its impact through its seamless integration with the subject-matter.”
Amanda Hodges

It’s fifteen years since the last major production of this (at the National) and it makes a welcome return. Even those who aren’t rapturous about Sondheim’s 1984 musical would have to concede that you’re unlikley to ever witness a better version of it than the one on offer here.

The symbiosis between art and artist is clearly demonstrated in the opening scene as George (Daniel Evans) muses over what constitutes a great work of art and just as his thoughts begin to formulate so the lines of a painting begin to etch themselves across the set. David Farley’s beautifully fluid set- clearly conveying the essence of a blank canvas from every angle – works in total harmony with Timothy Bird’s projections which are truly stunning.

The musical’s titles comes from one of Seurat’s great paintings: Sunday afternoon on the island of La Grande Jatte (1884-86) and throughout the play’s first half we see the composition of this painting beautifully evoked in a series of multi-dimensional images that quite literally recreate every aspect of the scene as canvases spring to life before our eyes in a sumptuous visual feast.

The first act revolves around Seurat, his work on Sunday Afternoon and his relationship with his mistress- and model – Dot (Jenna Russell). The eponymous opening number that she sings on a warm Sunday, standing still and tightly laced is full of humanity and humorous couplets (‘I love his painting/I think I’m fainting!) and perfectly encapsulates the dichotomy in their close relationship.

Consumed with his overwhelming need to create Seurat is emotionally distant whilst Dot craves proper connection, something she eventually finds in the arms of the more compliant baker. Russell is a delight as Dot (and, later the venerable Marie), hitting just the right notes that often rescue a potentially maudlin moment from contrived pathos and invest it with tangible poignancy.

Daniel Evans is also impressive, both as the nineteenth century Seurat and his contemporary namesake who occupies the majority of the second act, a young artist who’s temporarily lost his source of inspiration until he finally tackles the source of his creative block.

Musically this Sondheim collaboration doesn’t have any stand-out numbers in particular but achieves its impact through its seamless integration with the subject-matter.

There are moments that feel a little paper-thin- particularly in the less meaty second half, but generally the Chocolate Factory- under Sam Buntrock’s direction- have produced a gorgeous, intriguing and, above all, contemplative musical that makes you both question the nature of artistic vision and bask in its sumptuous recreation.

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