Theatre Review - Opening Night

Sheridan Smith in Opening Night [Jan Versweyveld]

ADAPTED from John Cassavetes’ 1977 film, Opening Night, this musical production (book by Ivo Van Hove, music and lyrics by Rufus Wainwright) follows a theatre company’s preparations to stage a major new play on Broadway.

Adding an extra layer, a documentary film crew tries to capture the process.

Myrtle Gordon (Sheridan Smith), a troubled actress with a drink problem, is suffering a mid-life crisis. She struggles to connect with the character she is playing in The Second Woman, a play by Sarah Goode (Nicola Hughes).

Sarah’s drama deals with aging and the symptoms of menopause and, we presume, Myrtle finds it too close for comfort. Increasingly, she goes off script, refuses to interact with her co-stars and collapses on and off stage.

She is initially indulged by the play’s director Manny (Hadley Fraser), the producer David (John Marquez), and her co-star and former husband Maurice (Benjamin Walker).

Myrtle is further disturbed by the death of a young fan, Nancy (Shira Haas), struck by a car. Haunted by Nancy’s ghost, who reminds Myrtle of her youth, she becomes increasingly belligerent.

Will she make it through to opening night? Do we care?

Van Hove’s interpretation is, at times, incoherent. Although elevated by soaring vocals from Smith, Hughes, Fraser and Amy Lennox as Manny’s young wife, Wainwright’s music is surprisingly nondescript.

It’s hard to feel much sympathy for Myrtle, and the overcrowded stage, together with Jan Versweyveld’s impressive video design, distracts rather than illuminating her crisis.

It’s a shame because there are some committed performances and flashes of  brilliance, such as the filming of Myrtle drunk outside the stage door. But Opening Night doesn’t cohere. I think it will bewilder more than enthral its audiences.

Until May 18

Originally published by Westminster Extra