The Mill at Sonning
Dates of run: May 24-July 15
Cast includes: Daniel Crowder, Evelyn Hoskins, Samuel How, Tim Maxwell-Clarke, Buna McCreery-Njie, Seren Sandham-Davies, Marina Tavolieri, Rebecca Thornhill, Laura Tyrer, Susannah van den Berg, Joseph Vella, Charlie Waddell, Natalie Winsor.
Children played by Daisy Jeffcoate, Mia Burton, Isla Jones, Sophie Bidgood, Aimee Brain, Sophie Lloyd, Avi Kruijt, Sacha Yarwood, Samuel Logan, George Clarke, Joshua Rowe, Harley Coles
Score: Jule Styne
Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Director: Joseph Pitcher
Musical arranger & musical director: Francis Goodhand.
Set design: Jason Denvir
Costume design: Natalie Titchener
Running time: two hours, 45 minutes, including interval
“Mothers out!” roars the vaudeville maestro Uncle Jocky at the start of what has been fondly dubbed “the mother of all musicals”.
But Gypsy Rose Lee is one mother who is staying right beside the daughters she is determined to thrust on the stage for the career she might have had had she not been born too soon or started too late.
Played by Rebecca Thornhill, under Joseph Pitcher’s meticulous direction, this larger-than-life Rose, belting out the high notes, is at first the stereotype of the infuriating stage mother until she and the characters she surrounds grow and deepen as the action progresses.
Her first love is June – a shrill, spoilt, over-acting, absurdly overdressed not-so-child prodigy, played with suitable enthusiasm by a succession of youthful stars, then by the adult Marina Tavolieri – as Rose seeks to deny the advance of time.
The diametric opposite is Louise, eventually forced from playing the back end of a cow and into the spotlight after her sister does what nearly everyone ultimately does and walks out of Rose’s life.
As Louise, Evelyn Hoskins, all wide-eyes and innocence, is the reluctant star of the show, filling our stomachs with nervous tension as she freezes in the audience glare until she proves herself her mother’s daughter after all – except, as she tells us, she’s not her mother: instead of letting them beg for more, she gives them “a real good … beg”.
It’s a classic Sondheim innuendo as, already, in one of his earliest forays into musical theatre, his lyrics bristle with the bitter-sweet and the unexpected, while the plot tantalises with the under-explored: economic desperation and the denial of straightforward love.
This joyful, beautifully-staged romp of a production doesn’t dwell or moralise or draw out the wistful implication that musicals may too go the way of vaudeville and the disturbingly more adult entertainment of burlesque that followed.
But poignancy is there in brevity that leaves us begging for more, and what could be the finale is just an interim snatch of happy togetherness as Daniel Crowder, the long-suffering Herbie, Louise and Rose deliver an irresistible version of “Wherever we go, whatever we do”.
It is perfectly rehearsed, the chemistry is compelling and it’s all the perfect choice for the gorgeous Mill at Sonning, which drew a very nearly full house even with the logistic nightmares of a train strike day.
Barbara Lewis © 2023.