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Groundhog Day

Published 17 August 2016

What’s It All About?

Phil Connors is a successful, sarcastic weatherman, forced to report on Groundhog Day in the tiny town of Punxsatawny, where, on 2 February each year, a beaver (also named Phil) predicts whether there will be an early spring. Rude and obnoxious, Phil (the man, not the marmot) is desperate to leave the “smallest town in America” and is horrified to discover that a blizzard has prevented his escape, and that he must spend one more night in his hotel. The problem is that, when he wakes up, it’s Groundhog Day again. And again. And again.

The musical follows Phil as he tries to break the endless cycle of Groundhog Day in order to get to 3 February, and as he learns that the opportunity for endless repetition is perhaps his greatest gift.

Who’s in it?

Perhaps the more pertinent question is, who’s behind it? Groundhog Day reunites the multiple Olivier Award-winning team behind Matilda The Musical: Old Vic Artistic Director Matthew Warchus, composer and lyricist Tim Minchin, choreographer Peter Darling and designer Rob Howell, joined by original Groundhog Day screenwriter, Danny Rubin. This group have already proved the huge extent of their theatrical capabilities and this is by no means an exception. Complex, deep and exquisitely detailed, Groundhog Day is sure to be regarded as another triumph.

Meanwhile, long-time denizen of Broadway Andy Karl does a terrific turn as Phil Connors, carrying off the many jokes and sarcastic asides with effortless panache. Endlessly engaging, Karl moves seamlessly from sarcasm to panic, to recklessness, to despair, to determination and finally to joy. While his exuberance makes for superb comedy, Karl handles the quiet moments with such lightness of touch that a single movement is enough to set the audience shivering.

Huge credit must also be given to the stunning ensemble: not only do they master a dizzying number of variations of the same songs and scenes, but they manage to personify the most charming bunch of dweebs currently visible on the London stage.

What should I look out for?

Beyond the spinning vortex of Phil’s personal experience, we are offered insightful glimpses into the lives of those in the community to which he begrudgingly belongs, reminding us that he is not the only one who feels stuck in a time and place. Poignant and moving, these soliloquies showcase the incredible talent of the supporting ensemble; Georgina Hagen’s performance of Being Nancy was, quite simply, flawless.

Designer Rob Howell pulls out all the stops in this production and creates superbly evocative staging. Based around a circular revolve, complete with travelators, the actors and sets move around and around in endless circles as the clock continues to tick and turn back. The use of models to depict Punxsatawney highlights its small, insular nature; made up of lit dolls houses, it resembles a charming Christmas card, a landscape frozen in time.

Not that you could miss it, but Act Two offers a rather superb, somewhat unexpected tap number, with a throbbing rhythm that resembles a heartbeat, or an incessantly ticking clock…

In a nutshell?

Smart, funny and completely unique, Tim Minchin’s new musical is a delightful rollercoaster ride about the incredible potential of repetition.

Who was in the press night crowd?

The great and good of the entertainment industry were out to catch a first glimpse of this much-anticipated show. Official London Theatre spotted Andrew Lloyd Webber in conversation with Elaine Paige, as well as David Walliams, Lenny Henry, Arlene Phillips, Brendan Coyle and Claudia Winkleman.

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Will I like it?

Groundhog Day is the result of several years of meticulous work and it shows; without the ease of jump cuts that a cinematic editing suite offers, the production team have been forced to find a myriad of creative ways to chart Phil’s journey. You may be relieved to hear that they don’t simply repeat the entire day over and over again, but instead offer an infinitely complex succession of repeated scenarios, with miniscule but crucial variations. Never allowing the audience to become complacent, however, the show suddenly twists down entirely different paths, revealing new moments created in each new day, providing further depth to the characters and the morals behind the story.

There are moments of farce, others of nihilism and many, many more of reflection. This is more than just the tale of a man stuck in a day – it is about community, about living with pain, about feeling stuck in the role life has offered you, about the infinite number of ways to know and love someone, and, crucially, about making the most of the time that is given to you.

The script and movement are suffused with layer upon layer of meaning, Tim Minchin’s trademark wit generates hilarity and despair in equal measure, and the exquisite set and lighting design achieve moments of breath-taking beauty. A truly unique piece of theatre, Groundhog Day will leave you wide-eyed, wonder-struck and, quite possibly, changed.

 

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