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 The Theatreguide.London Review

State Fair
Trafalgar Studios      Summer 2010

Wonderful! Luminous! Life-affirming! This review could be comprised of superlatives to describe State Fair.

The original novel became a film adaptation, then a musical movie with music and lyrics by the golden partnership of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II.

A stage musical version emerged in the mid 1990’s and the journey now continues in director Thom Southerland’s UK premier stage production, originally at the Finborough Theatre, and now for a month at the Trafalgar Studios’ 100-seater Studio 2.

How, I wondered, would such a small space contain the weight and breadth of a Broadway-style musical? Worry not.

The venue and stripped-down style is partly what makes this State Fair such a gem. The front row brushes against the actors at times: we can see their facial expressions, feel the floor trembling beneath barn and tap-dancing feet; and hear clear, mellifluous singing unaided by microphones or mixing desks.

The Frake family (mom, pop, son Wayne and daughter Margy) forms a micro-lens through which we are able to view post-war American country life and the enjoyment of the three day annual Iowa State Fair, more competitive and a step up from the county fair, yet still allowing for hoopla throwing, candy floss, pigs, pickles, mincemeat and the chance to dance with your girl and walk her home.

The talented, effervescent cast each deserves a mention, but a few subjective favourites must suffice: Laura Main’s Margy, whose ‘It Might as Well be Spring’ is sung with an appreciation of every emotional nuance; Jodie Jacobs as show-girl Emily Arden who captivates Wayne (Karl Clarkson) and embodies her role with such truthfulness that I truly believe her to be an aspiring Broadway star; Helen Phillips, whose versatility ranges from obnoxious child to competitive wife with a face as sour as the pickles she produces; and Stephen McGlynn, delightful as worldly journalist Pat Gilbert who rocks Margy’s world and might be ready to be transformed by love.

Harmonies are pitch perfect and the strength of ensemble-work is exemplified in the incrementally building, and finally soaring ‘It’s a Grand Night for Singing’ that closes part one. Colourful sights and sounds transport us back to a time of innocence and simplicity, creating a nostalgic longingin those not born in 1946.

Special praise for Musical Director Magnus Gilljam’s piano playing, the sole musical accompaniment that includes keystrokes mimicking the sounds of the fair. This show creates joy and, in our uncertain times, what a wonderful, luminous, and life-affirming thing that is.

Anita Butler

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Review of State Fair - Trafalgar Studios 2010