Saturday Night

Tuesday, 23 December, 1997

Conversely, in the late 1950's, when Broadway was revelling in the splendour of the classic Bernstein and Sondheim WEST SIDE STORY, the Bridewell Institute buildings and swimming bath were suffering the sadness and decrepitude of old age. Now, thankfully, a theatre has been nurtured there under the direction of Carol Metcalfe, a woman of unlimited ambition for the grandest thespian ideas.

Although, in it's short new life, the Bridewell has mounted acclaimed productions of THE WINTER'S TALE, MACBETH, and TWELFTH NIGHT - it's as a production house for musicals that makes it a must for London theatregoers. CLOSER THAN EVER, DAMN YANKEES, ROMANCE ROMANCE, and PROMISES, PROMISES have all been played there recently, and the theatre now shows another Sondheim musical, SATURDAY NIGHT as it's world premiere.

Stephen Sondheim was in his twenties when he wrote the music and lyrics for SATURDAY NIGHT with the bookwriters, Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein. But for the untimely demise of the producer during rehearsals, and his subsequent involvement with Leonard Bernstein writing the lyrics for WEST SIDE STORY, this play would have been Sondheim's professional debut.

Everything has changed since the 1950s, and it is doubtful whether the writers would have created the same the play today, when the world is a more cynical place, and less concerned with the trivia of financial wrongdoings.

The play is set in Brooklyn, New York in 1929 when the bull markets encouraged a group of young stock traders to pool their resources so that with the proceeds from a coup on Monday would put them in good shape to get amongst the girls on Saturday.

Hearing, as we do, of their lack of success with the ladies, it doesn't come as much of a surprise that they aren't much good at choosing one of their number to look after the communal loot.

Gene (Sam Newman) a wimpish, over-indulged socialite and stock trader, having become infatuated by Helen (Anna Francolini), and motivated by his hormonal explosions, dreams of short-cuts on his way to glory. To impress her, he finances the aquisition of a penthouse apartment near Brooklyn Bridge with the money entrusted to him by his friends.

The story tumbles along trying to bring the 1920s alive - but hocking the favourite car and avoiding the bailiffs is not the stuff to make the hands clammy in 1997.

Plotwise, there is the satisfaction that fifteen minutes from the final curtain I was unsure how the loose ends would be tied up so that Gene suffers an appropriate retribution and still manages to keep Helen as the focal point of his life.

You wouldn't expect Sondheim to be involved in a play which couldn't do that, would you.

Bridewell productions are of necessity, low budget, and this one is no exception, but the space is used effectively and in particular, the second act starts with a magic set encompassing a night club which could do business in it's own right.

I would have preferred more ruggedness and brashfulness in the male roles. Even in the 1920s the Wall Street bearpit made men of boys, before their time. A quick look in the nearby Stock Exchange might help.

Refreshingly, there are some tunes from the master, which I could hum and remember. I liked that.

And I liked the warmth and intimacy of this excellent theatre. It gets better with every visit.

Ask for Ludgate Circus. Turn your back on St Paul's and you'll be there.

(John Timperley)

Looking for the best seats...