ON WITH THE SHOW
Imelda Staunton and Stephen Sondheim tell Erica Wagner about the upcoming National Theatre revival of Follies
Imelda Staunton doesn’t need many words to tell me why she loves to be in Stephen Sondheim’s shows. ‘He writes for actors,’ she says simply. When we speak, she’s just about to begin her final week as the iconic Martha in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf ? – a production, directed by James Macdonald, that garnered fivestar reviews all round. The emotional turmoil of Albee will segue neatly into that of America’s reigning genius of the musical theatre. This month she’ll star as Sally in Sondheim’s Follies in its debut production at the National Theatre. ‘This is a piece about disappointment, about lives not lived, loves not enjoyed,’ she says; ‘it’s a musical on a slant.’
Follies, first produced on Broadway in 1971, was a show ahead of its time. Like Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia – written more than 20 years later – it bends time, its characters drifting past the ghosts of their vanished selves. Those characters, formerly performers in ‘Weismann’s Follies’ – based upon the famous Ziegfeld Follies – meet for a reunion before their old theatre is due to be demolished. Decades have passed since their glory days, and their encounters have the poignancy that so often marks Sondheim’s oeuvre.
‘His work is complex,’ observes Staunton; and as an actor in her glory days, she relishes complexity. Nominated for 11 Olivier Awards, she has won four – three of them in Sondheim’s shows: Into the Woods in 1991, Sweeney Todd in 2013 and Gypsy in 2016. ‘I feel that he is the Shakespeare of musical theatre, no doubt about it. I love
This page and opposite: sketches, dresses and costume samples for ‘Follies’, designed by Vicki