Recently I went to the Harold Pinter Theatre in London to see Merrily We Roll Along, which turned out to be more of a prediction than a title. The word Merrily was very aptly chosen, although presumably if they’d written it about churches they’d have used Verily or about vampires, Scarily.
It was totally brilliant. An enormous amount of energy radiated from the stage, each actor a tiny volcano of activity. These superbly talented tiny Vesuvii delivered perfectly timed, pithy dialogue awash with wit, sang brilliantly and danced with brio. Our national obesity problem would melt if everyone was required to perform Merrily once a night. The nation would be healthier whilst smelling of 70’s perfume and tap-shoe leather.
Sondheim music is a little like riding a bucking bronco, taking enormous leaps, sudden turns, lateral leaps, shaking brains out of apathy, keeping one gaspingly alert at all times. In many musicals, songs occur at the oddest places. Disaster; he’s died, tralalalala. Oh, I love you so much, doo-wapadooda-doo-wapwap. In Merrily, bursting into song blended in totally naturally, punctuating the story beautifully, creating enormous fun and energy, melding superbly into the plot.
The story tracks three friends’ journey backwards in time from when they’ve ended up living unhappily ever after. Living life backwards means untangling problems, re-creating hope as wrinkles and life baggage evaporate. In my case this would also mean losing the cat, four children and finally becoming unmarried. Thinking about it, there are definite advantages to this system, although I’d be sorry to lose my wrinkles as I’ve laughed a great deal to earn them. One look at my face is living proof that there is not a portrait of me somewhere ageing rapidly.
It felt fun, if a little unusual, to be watching a play to see if it ultimately had a happy beginning. As the story reversed through life, some of the clothes from 1970s looked embarrassingly familiar. Through rose coloured nostalgia, even flares and waistcoats seemed attractive, totally groovy really, although perhaps this was a product of a musical happy-high.
Grab a night out, go and see it, hum along, laugh, empathise, enjoy; sit back and roll along, merrily.
Alison Gardiner 2013