Image courtesy of Sarah Moyes.
The story of an enthusiastic Austrian nun who, when sent to nanny seven unruly children by the Mother Abbess, unwittingly falls in love with not only the children but their damaged naval commander father on the eve of the Anschluss, is a true classic in both senses of the word. The musical is now in its 56th year and few will find the plot, popularised by Robert Wise’s screenplay featuring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plumber, unfamiliar.
Whilst it is undoubtedly problematic to compare stage and screen, the majority of the audience will most likely have come across the latter before the former. As such, the most difficult hurdle for this musical is the presupposed ideas of the audience, leaving director Martin Connor left with a quandary. Does he attempt to embrace the well-loved film, or distance himself from the performances which define the expectations of much of the audience?
The inclusion of ‘How Can Love Survive’ and ‘No Way To Stop It’, two songs absent from the screenplay shows an attempt at innovation. However, the change of tone generated by these unknown numbers detrimentally affects the overall tone of the performance. This is particularly apparent in ‘No Way To Stop It’, the cheery opening song of the second act. On the subject of the impending German invasion, an upbeat number is somewhat crass given the gravitas the second act brings.
Though arguably these songs portray a degree of historical realism, they are by far the weakest numbers in a panoply of well executed classics that are performed by a faultless orchestra. Lucy O’Bryne, who plays Maria, has a pleasant voice that complements the melodious harmonies of the Von Trapp children. The disappointing range of a not-wholly-endearing Captain von Trapp, played by Gray O’Brien, is made up for by the spectacular operatic strength of Jan Hartley, playing the Mother Abbess.
Annie Horn performs marvellously as a wide eyed yet adventurous Leisl on the cusp of womanhood. The on-stage charisma of Rolf (Kane Verrall) is impressive, as is the particularly enjoyable balletic scene shared by Horn and Verrall which represents a refreshing change of pace. Choreography varies from the Laendler to a playful dance to the tune of The Lonely Goatheard and is fair overall.
An impressive array of sliding french doors and columns makes up a structurally impressive set that easily transforms from the austere yet protective bowels of the Abbey to the open-plan luxury of the Von Trapp home. The use of sharp lines, whether a curving staircase, the eaves of Maria’s attic bedroom or the evocative red swastika banners, make for a believable backdrop to a play where location is so important.
Although visually impressive, Kenwright’s The Sound of Music lacks substance and appeal. Whilst there is something comfortingly familiar about some elements, the performance at the Edinburgh Playhouse neither exceeds the expectations of traditionalists nor succeeds in bringing something different to the table.