Ever wondered what would happen if Bernard Shaw and William Shakespeare had a showdown on who was the most superior writer? Well pay a visit to the Jermyn Street Theatre to see Stephen Sondheim’s quirky but entertaining musical to find out…
There is certainly an element of surprise about this little performed musical by Stephen Sondheim , while there is references to fearsome frogs – the title actually has very little bearing the journey that Dionysos and Xanthias takes during the course of this entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable production directed by Grace Wessels.
Based on the comedy by by the Ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes, The Frogs follows Dionysos and Xanthias as they travel to Hades in an attempt to bring Bernard Shaw back to Earth to set the world to rights. But of course nothing is that simple – not when there are frogs involved and an unexpected showdown between William Shakespeare and Bernard Shaw as to who is the best playwright.
While the tale was originally ‘freely adapted’ by Burt Shevlove, for this production it has been even more loosely adapted by actor Nathan Lane which adds more comedy and adventure than perhaps the original allowed.
This isn’t a particularly stunning production to look at, with Gregor Donnelly’s set and costume designs being more on the practical side – yet the production still manages to make the most of the space, with even the audience feeling as though they are travelling along with Dionysos and Xanthias.
But where this production succeeds is making the most of the comedy and enthusiasm of the cast – all of whom really give their all to the characters they are playing. There are some great lines in the script not least the fact that viagra “is the god of Perseverance” and really keeps the show flow with ease that by the time that Dionysos and Xanthias get on the boat to Hades it feels that no time has passed at all.
There are some brilliant performances throughout – not least from Michael Matus as Dioysos who might come across as pompous at times, but also blunders around trying to take control of everything but doesn’t always succeed. He is consistently charming and engaging to watch and has a great partnership with George Rae as the loyal but timid Xanthias that the audience can really warm to. Rae is the perfect foil for Matus – his character developing in confidence as it appears he feels as though he fits in Hades better than Earth. Also worth mentioning is Jonathan Wadey as Charon – in charge of the boat that takes the pair to Hades, bringing a sort of Tim Minchin persona to the role that leads to some genuinely funny moments.
What lets the production/musical down is the music, which does sound a little bit stilted and disrupts the flow of the story, with some songs not adding anything to the story at all – not one of Sondheim’s strongest scores. But there is still some fun to be had with certain songs including “Invocation and Instructions to the Audience” which I genuinely feel that should be performed every theatre performance as an innovative technique to stop some people’s bad behaviour during performances.
Some might find that the music isn’t strong enough to warrant a revival of this little known Sondheim musical, but Wessels has created a production that is ultimately very funny and engaging with two fantastic central performances that the audience can really get behind. Who knows when it will be staged again, so it’s worth going to see – if you can get your hands on a ticket of course.
The Frogs continues to play at the Jermyn Street Theatre until the 8th April. For more information visit: http://www.jermynstreettheatre.co.uk/show/the-frogs/.