Conscious Coupling


Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Thursday 3rd April, 2014


It may surprise you to know that this musical originated as a film – the much beloved film – and was later adapted for the stage. I came to it with high expectations – the film remains a constant joy to behold.

It tells the story of Millie who marries in haste and finds herself alone in a remote cabin with her husband’s half a dozen brothers for whom she is expected to cook and clean. It’s like Snow White meets the mountain men. She soon tames them and trains them in social niceties so that they will be suitable marriage material for the girls in the town. Whom they abduct and get holed up with, so to speak, for an entire winter.

A lot of the production gets it right. Thanks to the young and energetic company, the dancing is spectacular, mixing balletic motifs with folksy moves. The dance-off between the brothers and the townsfolk is the highlight of the evening.  As Millie, Helena Blackman has the best voice in the show, combining touches of Maria von Trapp with Annie Oakley. Sam Attwater’s Adam Pontipee doesn’t quite match her for vocal power. He is mucho handsome but isn’t old or domineering enough to convince as the boorish oldest brother.

Of the brothers, Jack Greaves is sweet as Gideon the youngest, while Sam Stones is a little too overbearing as Frank, playing it something like Animal of The Muppet Show. All of them are excellent hoofers – which can be said of the entire company – but some of their accents have more of a drawl than others. The brothers get their shirts off a couple of times – a welcome sight in what is invariably a rather dark set – dark as in dimly lit. We don’t really get an impression of the great Oregon outdoors.

My main grievance is with the adaptation which cuts a couple of Gene De Paul and Johnny Mercer’s best songs entirely. There is no Spring, Spring, Spring or the one about June brides, or When You’re In Love. Instead there are interpolations which don’t measure up. The wonderful Lonesome Polecat is ‘mashed up’ with one of these new numbers and doesn’t work. There is a half-hearted opening number which fails to do for Oregon what Rodgers and Hammerstein did for Oklahoma.

Fortunately, the exuberance of the cast is infectious and keeps you watching and enjoying. It’s an old-fashioned show and uncomplicated entertainment – it’s the latter-day tinkering and additions that let it down.



About williamstafford

Novelist (Brough & Miller, sci fi, historical fantasy) Theatre critic and Actor - I can often be found walking the streets of Stratford upon Avon in the guise of the Bard! View all posts by williamstafford

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