Marry Me a Little

Stephen Sondheim, conceived and developed by Craig Lucas and Norman Rene
Lambco Productions
Stage Door Theatre

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Markus Sodergren as the Man and Shelley Winters as the Woman Credit: Peter Davies
Shelley Rivers as the Woman Credit: Peter Davies
Markus Sodergren as the Man Credit: Peter Davies

The words and the music are all by Stephen Sondheim, but this is a compilation show (first staged over 40 years ago) that Craig Lucas and Norman Rene put together from songs cut from earlier musicals and from the then unstaged Saturday Night. Yes, even its title song was dropped from the original production of Company, though later productions restored it.

It is a cycle of songs that express the thoughts, regrets, hopes and feelings of those who live busy but solitary lives in the midst of a bustling city. There is no dialogue, no obvious narrative; different productions have interpreted it in their own way, sometimes as a couple that have broken up, as both hetero and same-sex pairings. Here Robert McWhir’s production presents a Man (Markus Sodergren) and a Woman (Shelley Rivers) who live in identical apartments. They could be neighbours but they never meet, though their lives often seem to mirror each other, as the staging deftly demonstrates as they simultaneously share the same space.

This could be seen as a collage of moments from their lives or as a single evening as they come home from work, pour a drink (bourbon for him, white wine for her) change into something more comfortable (both with a hint of a self-regarding striptease), check phones, pop food in the microwave and prepare to leave, she in her glad rags and he, it would seem, more permanently. The songs speak for themselves and the conviction which both performers bring suggests that they have a very clear idea of their characters’ personal stories, but this production doesn’t pose a rigid narrative but gives you the freedom to make up your own story, and anyone who has been a singleton in a big city will find plenty of resonance.

Both characters seem always to have a drink in their hand, and Sodergren gets delightfully drunk while delivering “Ah, But Underneath” then sobers up and draws great sympathy as he packs his possessions while singing “It Isn’t Meant to Happen”, though without explanation of why a towel, a mug and a floppy rabbit are so important in his life. Rivers’s Woman is much more optimistic, though facing reality as she gives a great performance of “There Won’t Be Trumpets” before setting out for the evening. These are singers who can express feeling and, with only a piano accompaniment and no amplified band to drown them out, it is great to hear their clear voices which sometimes interweave in a song as they do in the action, slyly humorous as they share a mirror or echo a phrase as a comment. Together, they offer just over an hour of continuous Sondheim song that will delight aficionados.

This production of Marry Me A Little is the first to be staged in a space newly turned into a theatre upstairs at the Prince of Wales pub in Drury Lane. It makes an intimate venue where you can dine then watch from your table. Designer David Shields manages to convey a complete apartment set on a raised platform opposite the bar with action centred on a comfortable sofa and Richard Lambert’s precise lighting helping mark out the two strands of story.

Space taken-up by tables limits capacity, so it will be interesting to see how Lambco Productions programmes its new venue. Already announced for the coming months are a revival of The Tailor-Made Man and Thief, a solo piece inspired by the life of Jean Genet.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton

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