Despite receiving several productions in the US since its 2008 premiere, this revival of the contemporary rock musical in the hands of Michael Longhurst, who last year brought another American favourite The Band’s Visit over under similar circumstances, marks the first time it’s been seen in the UK.
Jamie Parker and Caissie Levy in Next to Normal at the Donmar Warehouse. Photo: Marc Brenner
And what a cast to embellish it. Broadway favourite Caissie Levy, who originated the part of Elsa in Frozen the Musical, plays Diana, a woman battling bipolar along with delusional episodes. It’s a challenging role, vocally as well as emotionally, involving veering between multiple octaves, often in tricky keys. Levy not only masters this but magnifies the slim rays of humour that make Diana relatable, even likeable.
By her side are two musical-theatre talents who have already impressed on the London stage this year. Jamie Parker, who comes to the production straight from playing the lead in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, is moving as Diana’s anguished husband Dan, burying his own suffering as he keeps morale up in the family. Never is this more vivid than in giddy early number It's Gonna be Good. Eleanor Worthington-Cox, who was front and centre in the Almeida’s The Secret Life of Bees this spring, captures all the hurt and hope of daughter Natalie, who has effectively been left to raise herself.
Eleanor Worthington-Cox in Next to Normal at the Donmar Warehouse. Photo: Marc Brenner
Jack Wolfe, who plays son Gabe, is one to watch: his song I’m Alive is delivered with rockstar prowess as he hurtles around the stage, mic in hand. He’s also ever present, delivering commendable passive acting through haunting, lingering stares when not the focus.
A revelation delivered approximately a third of the way through, which we won’t share, adds another layer of complexity to Diana’s episodes. Whether the trauma she experienced caused her bipolar disorder, which manifested shortly afterwards, or exacerbated it, is unknown. However, it’s on this awful event and the shadow-life it’s left her with that she pins her subsequent unhappiness.
Jamie Parker, Jack Wolfe and the band in Next to Normal at the Donmar Warehouse. Photo: Marc Brenner
The chaos of Diana’s mind is conveyed effectively with outbursts from the band: a six-strong unit of strings, keys and percussion players visible in four chambers above the stage. Trevor Dion Nucholas in the part of Dr Madden does a good job of flip-flopping between the measured practitioner he really is and the overbearing rockstar figure in Diana’s mind. Longhurst’s production is cleverly liberal with the comings and goings of who’s on stage at any one time, with multiple narratives criss-crossing, and this helps visualise Diana’s confusion.
Chloe Lamford’s hyper-naturalist set with its rotating foreground achieves this too. After a worrying bout of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), Diana sits surrounded by a carousel of old diaries and photos, trying to piece together the fragments of her life. While this troubled family goes round in circles with her illness, much like the stage beneath them, there are at least hints of more hopeful times ahead by the end.
|What||Next to Normal, Donmar Warehouse review|
|Where||Donmar Warehouse, 41 Earlham Street, Seven Dials, WC2H 9LX | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Covent Garden (underground)|
14 Aug 23 – 07 Oct 23, 7:30 PM – 10:00 PM
|Price||£10 - £65|
|Website||Click here for more information and to book|