Review – Groundhog Day, Old Vic

Friday 5 August 2016

4180No, we’re not going to do it. Post the review and repeat it over and over again. The poster’s done it. Everyone will be do it. Heck, we exhausted the gag in the pub before we even got to the Old Vic. Far too obvious. Tempting though.

Tim Minchin‘s long-awaited (by us at least) musical version of the hugely entertaining 1993 film. The one that Mr Sondheim considered and turned down, declaring “to make a musical of Groundhog Day would be to gild the lily. It cannot be improved.” Quite.

And the book’s by Danny Rubin, based on his and Harold Ramis‘ original screenplay, and it’s the Matilda team; Minchin, director (Matthew Warchus), designer (Rob Howell), lighting designer (Hugh Vanstone), choreographers (Peter Darling and Ellen Kane) and illusionist (Paul Kieve) etc as before.

It looked as if nothing could go wrong with that lot working with the brilliantly potty but unexplained idea of a man who has to suffer living through the same day time and time again. We know the feeling.

Whinger-in-waiting Phil Connors (Andy Karl) is a curmudgeonly weatherman sent to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to report on the annual Groundhog Day festivities. Incidentally the groundhog is also called Phil, so this review is going to be somewhat Phil-filled. Phil (Connors) understandably experiences something of an existential crisis when he finds out that he is caught in a time loop, doomed to keep waking up on the same day and the prospect of a future akin to a broken record. Will he exploit the situation or be redeemed by it? Can he work with the concept to get his producer Rita (Carlyss Peer) into bed?

It’s pretty faithful to the film which cleverly covered every angle of the conceit. Phil (Conors) manipulates things to his advantage; he learns French and how to play the piano and works out that he can eat as much as he wants without consequences, need never go to the gym and (our favourite) never suffer hangovers. Though is it too nit-picking to wonder how, if his mental abilities are able to improve, why isn’t his body affected by eating, drinking and never needing exercise?

But with endless repetition comes depression. A bit like appearing in a show 8 times a week. For once we had some sympathy for the cast. Most of them have to repeat the same things over and over again while Phil (Connors) gets to respond to them in different ways.

The songs aren’t particularly catchy despite hearing snatches of them repeated several times, though at least this is a show that can justify the use of the reprise. Many of the songs are clever but at least 50% of the ensemble numbers were lost due to an over-amplified band. Matilda suffered a similar problem when we saw it. Preview and all that but the show’s been up and running for over a couple of weeks. Even some of the spoken dialogue was drowned out by background music that refused to keep to the background.

Shame, as it’s frequently laugh out loud hilarious and gets even funnier as the show progresses. There’s a series of knockout set pieces; a smartly realised car chase, a hilarious number where Phil (Connors) undergoes various therapies, and two clever montage sequences, one where he executes a series of good deeds and another of his various suicide attempts which comes with some cheekily clever illusions. We’re also treated to a a hugely satisfying tap number. Added to this they all advance the story and are superbly staged.

The decor with tiny light up houses, weather map frameworks and the snowbound location, with cast in scarves, snowboots and anoraks, has an untimely Christmassy feel. The stage with its series of revolves within revolves keeps things fizzing along satisfyingly. Unfortunately (Whinger) Phil’s theatrical bête noirethe park bench, twirls on repeatedly. A prime example of Groundhog Dayishness.

And then there’s Mr Karl. Less of a slob than than the film’s Bill Murray and much more the smooth bequiffed US meteorologist of US television. Charismatic, hilarious and rarely off the stage. It’s quite exhausting to watch him. How he remembers the subtle changes when all around him remains almost the same is beyond us, especially as changes are presumably still be being made. We liked him enormously. Expect Olivier or Tony nominations depending on where this heads next.

Phil (Whinger) enjoyed himself so much he is happy to ignore the park bench, but he won’t forgive the terrible sound design; hidden beneath it there is a five star glass show struggling to get out.

Andrew said he’d happily sit through it again the next day. Phil (Whinger) assumes this wasn’t a reference to the theme.

Bad Audience Update

Brent (who was seated beside Whinger Phil) had something of an altercation with the woman in the row in front. She switched on her mobile during Act One but didn’t factor in Brent locating his inner Richard Jordan and tapped her on the shoulder to nip it in the bud. At the interval she turned round to rant declaring “It was the first time away from my baby. I had to check in with my babysitter”. So that’s alright then.

Shame the Old Vic doesn’t repeat its mobile warning throughout the evening; it’s the one show that could get away with it. Perhaps motherhood is an acceptable excuse for bad behaviour in the theatre. Andrea Leadsom would surely approve.

Hopefully Theresa May will be sitting in front of us next time.

Groundhog Day isn’t suitable for younger children or adults who behave like them.

Rating (ok, so we lied)
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7 Responses to “Review – Groundhog Day, Old Vic”

  1. Andrew Says:

    Hated Matilda coz of over amplified band so now not looking forward to this at month end

  2. Billy Says:

    Whinger fans are eagerly wondering if this reunion of the consciously uncoupled Andrew and Phil is merely on the occasion of the theme of the inescapability of present drudgery, or will it prove more lasting? Has Michael Coveney volunteered to be a replacement Whinger?

  3. glen morranjie Says:

    Saw this in preview and loved it, once I had got over the cast endlessly putting the hotel room together then taking it apart. Some of was rather moving, (i.e. emotionally!)

  4. Bev Klein Says:

    I was sitting near the front, it is true, but I commented on how good the sound design was. I heard every word, and I’m so done who watches tv with the subtitles on! Loved it. Huge fan of the movie. I admit to thinking of you when the park bench came on!


  5. […] West End Whingers: “it’s frequently laugh out loud hilarious and gets even funnier as the show progresses.” […]


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