Follies at the National Theatre: review by Stephen Vowles

I have always felt that Follies, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Goldman, was an exceptional musical blending. A hard hitting story that intentionally does not have a happy ending. A fantasy world, where in this spectacular production at the National Theatre, audiences witness a collaboration between musician and author that is without doubt one of the most mesmerising shows to be seen this year. I have had a ‘wish list’ in my wallet for years with Follies right up there and have yearned to see a full scale production. Sitting in seat G38 of the Olivier Theatre at the National Theatre, cheering and applauding as long as I could after seeing this pure perfection of a performance, meant I could now tick that box.

The story of Follies is a simple one. A once proud theatre that used to stage the Weissman Follies is in ruins being pulled down to make way for another office block in Manhattan. An invited small selection of showgirls are asked to attend the theatre for one last time and this is their story. Follies as a concept is striking, with two stories being played out – where the actors playing their roles overlap – and as the finale approaches, finally blend as the four protagonists’ stories mesh together.

Imelda Staunton as Sally, Janie Dee as Phyllis are breathtaking but it’s Tracie Bennett as Carlotta Campion in her rendition of one of the best songs in the show “I’m still here” that had me almost bursting into tears of immense joy and heart-beating emotion as she tackled the song with a raw sincerity that deserved the rapturous applause she received as she hit that final note. A true show stopper of a number.

To revive Sondheim’s masterpiece may seem daunting to some but director Dominic Cooke has taken this show and staged a jaw-dropping  135 minutes of brilliance that will surpasses your wildest dreams. I award this show a rare five stars. If you can’t get an actual ticket to see this show then put a date in your diary as Follies will be broadcast by NT Live into cinemas in the UK and internationally on Thursday 16th November.


Follies is at the Olivier Theatre, National Theatre, Upper Ground, South Bank, London SE1 9PX Box office:  020 7452 3000.

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