Straight from a Tony-award-winning run-on Broadway and a US tour, Daniel Fish’s bold reinvention of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic Oklahoma! comes to Lambeth’s Young Vic for a limited run, writes Adam Davidson.
The Young Vic is transformed into a brightly lit midwestern frontier dancehall with the audience in close proximity and at the heart of the action.
The fourth wall was torn down, if it ever existed in the first place, as we become a side character in the drama.
Typically, when a play starts, the lights dim and the distinction between the play and reality are drawn.
However, for this reinterpretation, the lights remained on which didn’t grant the audience that comfort.
In certain dark moments, like the song Poor Jud is Daid, all the lights went out and the audience were submerged in complete darkness.
It awoke the senses and the full concentration was on the unsettling lyrics.
Oklahoma! is a musical that deals with dark themes that are still relevant in the 21st century such as the issues of the commodification of women and toxic masculinity.
Previous productions may have skirted around these issues but Daniel Fish’s reinvention put them firmly at the centre of the story through the classic story of the love triangle between Laurey (Anoushka Lucas), cowboy Curly (Arthur Darvill) and the farmhand Jud (Patrick Vaill.)
The consequences of these societal issues were perfectly encapsulated through Anoushka Lucas’ powerful portrayal of Laurey through raw emotion and her moving soulful singing that echoed around the theatre.
Despite the hard-hitting themes, there were many moments of comic relief from the love triangle between Ado Annie Carnes (Marisha Wallace), the simple cowboy Will Parker (James Davis) and the Persian peddler Ali Hakim (Stavros Demetraki.)
The musical was hard to place, in the best possible way.
It had moments of hilarity, raw and tense moments in which you could hear a pin drop and even some raucous moments that felt like a music concert.
When Marisha Wallace picked up the mic to sing I Cain’t Say No it was reminiscent of a soulful Aretha Franklin concert as she danced along to the rhythm while the audience clapped along.
The second half opens with a psychedelic dream sequence in which smoke fills the room and a raw electric interpretation of Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin plays as dancer Marie-Astrid Mence glides across the stage.
The discordant music in this scene was reminiscent of early Pink Floyd and the whole scene leaves the audience shocked, but that is the intention, to be provocative and challenge any preconceptions we had of this age-old musical.
The climactic scene clearly had the intention of shocking the audience but it was cleverly done and never distracted from the important themes in the play but it will inevitably have moments that divide opinion and get people talking.
Reinventing a seemingly outdated musical that will turn 80 next year and making it fresh and relevant to a modern audience is no mean feat but this production of Oklahoma! is nothing short of a stroke of genius from all involved.
Oklahoma! is on until June 25.
Call the Box Office on 020 7922 2922, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Pictured: A still from the show