©Hugo Glendinning & Feast Creative
A tour of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers hit London last year and I wasn't impressed with the show at the time; the songs weren't memorable, the story was outdated and the performances were adequate at best. However, when I first heard the the classic would be a part of this year's Regent's Park Open Air season I was interested to see how it would compare, especially as I have heard nothing but great things from this unique theatre yet had never had the chance to visit before. And when Alex Gaumond was cast in one of the leads (who I loved in Top Hat, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and We Will Rock You), I knew I had to give Seven Brides for Seven Brothers another chance.
After two failed attempts visiting the Open Air Theatre as we were rained off (the first time the show was cancelled before curtain up, the second time after 40 minutes - these were the only two performances not to go ahead due to the weather all season up until that point so we were just very unlucky) we finally managed to watch the whole show towards the end of the run. And it was wonderful, definitely worth the wait and the three trips to Regent's Park!
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers tells the story of Milly (Laura Pitt-Pulford), who is swept of her feet in a whirlwind romance by Adam Pontipee (Alex Gaumond). So whirlwind in fact, that she agrees to marry him within five minutes of meeting him. His excuse is that he's only in town that day and once he makes the 12 mile long trip back to his cabin in the woods he won't come back until Spring. Milly is just pleased she doesn't have to marry one of the local boys and she is excited to head to a remote location with just one man to care for. However, when the newly married couple make it back to the Pontipee home an unpleasant surprise is waiting for Milly: Adam's six younger brothers. They're wild, without manners and rather than a quiet honeymoon period, Adam and the boys expect Milly to cook, clean and take care of all seven men in the house...
Before I start my review about the actual performance I have to say that the the setting was just magical! We were given a tour onto the stage during our second visit and I was in awe of how incredible it looked and how well integrated the set was into its surroundings. As a spectator you really do instantly get transported to a remote cabin in rural North America, and seeing the sun set and watch little insects fly near the trees on the stage created an incredibly atmospheric and unique experience, unlike anything I've ever come across in theatre. Having now finally been to Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, I am going to make a real effort to see at least one show each season, so I can relish that incredible experience of witnessing a piece of theatre in the open air again.
A glimpse of our on stage tour
Like when I saw the touring production of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, the story still felt incredibly dated and old-fashioned. It's misogynist and the lines are cringe-worthy at times, yet somehow the company at the Open Air Theatre has transformed an unlikeable story into a charming evening out. Laura Pitt-Pulford is incredible as Milly, and despite some questionable choices she comes across as a much stronger and independent woman that the story lets her be. Alex Gaumond's Adam on the other hand is every bit as aggravating as you'd expect someone to be who marries a woman under false pretenses. It's in actual fact his six younger brothers that fall under Milly's spell much quicker and turn from ill-mannered woodsmen into gentlemen (gentlemen that kidnap wives for themselves, but even so).
The real star of this show though is the breathtaking choreography by Alistair David. The axe-jumping sequence is of course the most iconic within this musical, but there are many more outstanding moments. The scene where the brothers take on the townsmen at the harvest social was a particularly stunning one that was so incredible that I did not want it to end. The dancing was daring, tight and very exciting; if there was a two-hour long version that included just these guys working their magic on stage I'd be first in line to book my tickets to watch it - it was that good. Replicating an abbreviated version of that sizzling scene as the finale was a clever thing to do, as it left the audience in awe as the metaphorical curtain drew a close to the show.
While the story of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers may be dated and even a tad uncomfortable to watch at times in our PC-focused society, this production has steered away as much as possible from the more cringe-worthy elements, to put the focus on a strong female protagonist, a whole slew of hummable songs and a phenomenal choreography, creating a surprisingly charming and definitely impressive show, which is made even more exciting and memorable by its magical setting.
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is running at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre until 29 August 2015. You can book tickets here.