Road Show at the Menier Chocolate Factory was a very odd experience on many levels: Sondheim at his caustic best, presented at the Chocolate Factory, now considered by me at the chic, edgy end of London theatre.
We had decided to take advantage of their meal deal, which was a combo of tickets and a two-course menu. That wasn’t such a great start, as the restaurant seems to be peopled by bearded men of a certain age with their ladies in Laura Ashley attire (the liberal school teachers convention space wasn’t what I had thought the Menier was about). One rather poignant exception was a very chic family, the mother with Richard Ward-blown hair and a smart dress, the daughter with long dark tresses over a super trendy, embroidered dress and shiny shoes. That was more like it - except they were distressingly illustrative of the sad old truth that youth invariably beats beauty. The father was so smitten by his daughter and focused his gaze so lovingly on her that the poor mother was ignored, and she bound up her luxurious hair in a knot after a while. This may have had to do with the heat in the room - it was London sweltering for once - but seemed to me more to do with the lack of warmth the poor lady was given. Ah, the quiet despair of middle age!
The food didn’t help to quell my disquiet. A perfectly good Cesars salad, but with the wrap full of courgettes and aubergines with no noticeable spicing. Very boring indeed, and certainly not worth the money. They charge £6 for a SA Chenin blanc - a bit de trop, I thought, when the house white was perfectly fine.
And so to Sondheim. In an icily cold (and very noisy) room, with staging reminding me of a boxing ring, we were confronted with the boxing match that is life. The ascent and descent of two very different brothers, both trying to fulfil their father’s deathbed command of making a success of their lives. We witness how they both misunderstand this Big American Dream, and the dire consequences. (Inhabitants of Palm Beach be warned: you’re not getting very good press here.) The singing was terrific, with some outstanding voices - the mother and the bad son come to mind. And the ensemble was so strong my ears nearly burst. They are clearly aiming for a bigger venue.
I would like to report a happier ending, but Sondheim, as ever, prefers the truthful, bittersweet option. And I wonder if those brothers are still doing their awful best somewhere in the United States, or have they migrated here.