BACK IN THE FOLLIES
As the show is about a reunion of Follies girls onstage in a theatre, it was appropriate that the four principal members of the current cast of Follies at the National Theatre should meet on the Olivier stage to discuss their roles.
Janie Dee and Peter Forbes were reunited from last year’s production, and Janie and Joanna Riding had worked together on Carousel more than 25 years ago. They had both worked with Alexander Hanson over the years – “We’ve been in each other’s orbit,” said Alex, and then revealed that he had been seen for Billy Bigelow, but didn’t get the part.
Interviewer Matt Wolf asked Joanna and Alex what it was like to come into a production that was already a recognised success, and to step into roles that had been occupied by other actors. Both of them had seen the production: Joanna had dropped her children off to see School of Rock and then had started to shed tears as she crossed Waterloo Bridge and seen the word Follies on the NT’s display board. At the opening she’d had a very generous and gracious card from Imelda Staunton (who played Sally previously). Alex had been in Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, but found Follies a completely different experience in style and content.
Janie and Peter said that director Dominic Cooke got them to explore the back-stories of their characters and to analyse the relationships between their characters. Janie had come to the conclusion that people don’t change that much in the course of their lives, and cited her relationship with Joanna as being the same as when they’d last worked together. However, she welcomed the opportunity to return to the role of Phyllis, as she felt there were aspects of the character that she hadn’t finished with. She’d been distraught backstage on the last night of the previous run – Peter had had to tell her to pull herself together – and had told Dominic Cooke that she wasn’t ready to let go of the role. “I’m glad you said that,” he replied.
Matt asked them all to talk about their individual Follies numbers, which bring the show to its shattering climax. Peter laughed and said that he had to stand still on stage for 7 minutes during the Loveland sequence before dashing off-stage to do a quick change and then dive into the hyperactive Buddy’s Blues without any physical or vocal warm-up. This frenetic routine takes the audience by surprise, and it’s a triumph for Peter that he takes it at breakneck speed without losing a word of the lyric.
We were eager to hear how Joanna arrived at her startling interpretation of the heartbreaking Losing My Mind.....
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