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Sunday In The Park With George

First Published 17 April 2008, Last Updated 22 April 2008

Sam Buntrock’s revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday In The Park With George opened at the Menier Chocolate Factory last year. Following much acclaim it has transferred to the larger Wyndham’s theatre, where it faced the press last night. Matthew Amer joined an expectant first night audience including Sir Cameron Mackintosh, Jon Lee, Patrick Stewart, Lisa Dillon and Alan Rickman.

Sunday In The Park With George is, as one of this summer’s football commentators might say, a musical of two halves. The first concerns pointillist painter Georges Seurat as he tries to create his famous painting Sunday Afternoon On The Island Of La Grande Jatte. As he spends his weekend in the park, the snapshots of the lives of his characters are played out; house servants spend their much valued time off among the trees and shop girls try to impress soldiers.

The second half jumps forward a century as Seurat’s great grandson faces up to the pressures of trying to survive in the contemporary American art world.

Laurence Olivier Award-winner Daniel Evans plays both Georges, in whom family traits run strong. Both struggle with their art, try to push the boundaries of their fields to create something new, innovative and exciting, and find their contemporaries don’t always share their views. Both are so caught up in their work that their relationships cannot survive the strain.

Jenna Russell has replaced Anna Jane Casey as Seurat’s girlfriend Dot in the transition from the Menier Chocolate Factory to the Wyndham’s. She brings light to the proceedings as a saucier, cheekier, more lovable character than Seurat, but also lends a devastating air of fragility.

Russell returns in Act Two as Dot’s daughter, and 20th century George’s grandmother, Marie, again proving her comic talents in a role tinged with sadness.

Sondheim’s score, as orchestrated for five musicians by Jason Carr, augments the plot; stinging staccato accompanies Seurat as he paints his points, while 20th century George’s tale of existence in the New York art world – Putting It Together – becomes as frantic as his attempts to please the influential moneymen.

When the show was staged at the Menier Chocolate Factory, designers Timothy Bird and David Farley collected the Critics’ Circle Award for Best Designer. The Wyndham’s stage offers them even greater scope for their sumptuous projections. The innovative design allows the painting and backdrop to come to life and interact with the characters on stage and is almost as engaging as the plot itself.

Sunday In The Park With George is currently booking at the Wyndham’s until 30 September.

MA

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