SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park W1

GLORIOUS BRIDES AND BROTHERS…  LP NIPS BACK  MID-HOL TO CATCH THEM ALL

Innocent virgins abducted from their family hearth, carried off  to wild territory by lawless bearded gunmen as domestic slaves and bedmates!  Men callously singing about the rape of Sabine Women, gleefully anticipating their victims. “Sobbin, sobbin, sobbin, fit to be tied”!  Shocking. But none of your Royal Opera House rape filth here. This sunny, witty, melodious show is wholesome as hominy grits, the crowning treat of the Regents Park season.  A slight and fairytale book indeed, but threaded with great tunes and heart and sense and mischief and tough 50s feminism.

Rarely has the stage version – devised in 1978 from the  famous 1954 film – been more fun than under Rachel Kavanaugh’s deft direction, beneath the trees which. (with Peter McKintosh’s neat sliding barn set) readily represent the mountain pines of old Oregon, where a pioneer backwoodsman might sing of himself as a lonesome polecat yearning for a mate. As the feral pioneer men, furious townsfolk and shrieksome girls roar around the auditorium in a gingham-and-buckslin tornado, and the avalanche (clever trick,Mr McK!) overwhelms the whole rake, we’re right there, believing the raucous romcom tale.  Such a surrender is facilitated by the way that each of Mercer’s and Hirschorn’s songs does genuinely move the emotional story forward.  And at two moments the music takes you, suddenly, beyond mere rollicking entertainment into real beauty: one a twelve-strong harmony of separated  men and girls yearning for the end of winter: the other a heartbreakingly simple welcome to a newborn child.

Everything works. Laura Pitt-Pulford as  Millie, the first and voluntary bride, sings like a bird, fiercely enchanting in her refusal to quit after being duped by the wily, arrogant Adam (a strong, swaggering Alex Gaumond).  The sequence where she gives courtship advice to the six brawling, Top-Gearish louts – still in long underwear and socks  – is glorious. Not least when within minutes their discordant lumbering becomes Nureyevesque balletry, frankly as camp as Christmas.

Indeed the movement and dance throughout is athletically, crazily witty and expressive (axe-dancing could become a disco craze, lock up your woodshed now).  Movie folklore from 1954 relates that the film’s choreographer  tried to turn down the job, saying : “Here are these slobs living off in the woods. They have no schooling, they are uncouth, there’s manure on the floor, the cows come in and out – and they’re gonna get up and dance? We’d be laughed out of the house.”   But he triumphed, and modern choreographers like nothing more than a bit of challenging character work. So before Alistair David sets them free here into balletic brilliance, and again during the dance-off at the Social, character and rivalry between the prim urbanites and the wild brothers are expressed with  consummate wit. So is the orchestration – some lovely discords as Caleb first takes the floor. Anyway,  top marks to anyone who can dance at all after being, as several brothers are, hurled with bruising violence across the floor and over tables.
Joyful moments, then, link a chain of easeful satisfaction: relish Millie’s  polite dismay as ever more unexpected siblings-in-law in law crash out if the Regents Park bushes, or wait for the mournful chorus as banished lads with “cupid’s cramp” clutch pillows to their frustrate groins in the barn. Sigh happily as that joke blends into sweetness and longing for real love as the chorus melds. Look forward, even to the abrupt economical brilliance of the quickfire conclusion.  And, as ever, enjoy the dusk falling over us all on the park, as the light filters through the trees  and the same bats swoop over both W1 and the Old West…

box office 0844 826 4242 to 29 Aug

rating four   4 Meece Rating
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box office 0844 826 4242 to 29 Aug

rating four
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