The Friday Song
Back to more serious matters tomorrow, but the sun’s out today and I think we’ve earned a song. Oh God, you think, he’s on about lyrics again. It’s a writers’ thing. I’m not in love with flowery 19th cent. poetry but I love clever wordplay. Last night I saw Dominic Cooke’s production of ‘Follies’ at the National Theatre. I’d seen a version of Sondheim’s dark, flawed play about ageing, (fol) lies and deceptions with Diana Rigg in the 80’s, but that had been rejigged to provide an unlikely happy ending. Cooke (whom I had met through a friend) explained his different taken on the material; to return it to its original 1971 intentions in another uncertain era. The show uses parodies/ homages to American musical history to point up its characters’ failures and is surprisingly cruel and cynical about love – but the new production is a triumph, and goes into cinemas shortly as part of the NT Live strand. Let’s hope they preserve the show for posterity, as it really only works when seen as a single interval-free piece. BTW, the favourite writers’ lyric from ‘Follies’ is; Him: ‘Ideal, she avers.’ Her: ‘You deal. ‘Avers‘?’ – you have to be there.
The last thing Sondheim has written to date is the extraordinary true story of two brothers, one gay and idealistic, the other straight and untrustworthy, who got caught up in a series of turbulent and often disastrous 20th century events. ‘Bounce’ had a troubled gestation and was completely rewritten to emerge as ‘Road Show’. A complex, sprawling and uneven canvas exploring two freefalling lives, it successfully ran in London (set on a railway track) but has still to find its definitive production.
Sondheim clearly had cold feet about this song because he first staged it between a man and a woman, but it (and he) eventually decided to emerge into the light. It is the only gay love song he has ever written.