Oklahoma at the Young Vic, May 14

The production of OKLAHOMA currently at the Young Vic is getting rave reviews, but I didn’t much like it. Noel Coward said that what he learned from his first trip to Broadway was to speed everything up when he returned to the UK. Here everything seemed slowed down, the way the characters speak, move. The score is also slowed down by being interpreted with a country and western twang or a jazzy bending of notes that seemed to stretch it out and take forever, as if the most laid back country and western singer ever all of a sudden decided to mix in Mariah Carey. I missed the joy and energy so evident in the original soundtrack and which seems to me to evoke mid-century America better than almost anything else. This production wants to plumb depths as if they didn’t exist in the original and instead just makes things heavy with ‘meaning’. The exchanges between Judd and Curly take place first in darkness, then projected to life in b&w onto a screen in huge close-ups that lend all the threats, blackmail and lamentations a potent homoerotic charge. Of course the scores is so gorgeous, no production can quite kill it; and this one benefits from having truly great singers in most of the parts. The only ‘innovation’ that dazzled was Marisha Wallace as Ado Annie, who brough her rendition of ‘A Girl Who Can’t Say No’ to Church and stopped the show with it. The production underlines questions of class, race and the justice system in its making Judd so handsome and desirable his position is the only thing that can be held against him. The cast is mixed race, something that seems like blind casting through most of the show but becomes more significant at the ‘trial’ at the end, where the homey taking care of business becomes a pointed message of privilege. I found all of this interesting. What I minded was the slowing of everything down to underline how ‘important’, ‘significant’ ‘symbolic; and ‘meaningful’ it all was. I would have exchanged it all for one rousing rendition of ‘Oklahoma.’

José Arroyo

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