Next to Normal at Wyndham's Theatre: A Resonant Masterpiece 15 Years in the Making | REVIEW

Thursday 27 June 2024

Next to Normal
Wyndham's Theatre

London’s theatre scene is abuzz at the moment, with fan favourites returning, completely new works opening, and highly anticipated Broadway transfers finally making their way over. In Next to Normal’s case, "finally" is the operative word as it’s taken 15 years. Since debuting on Broadway in 2009 to critical and audience acclaim, fans have been eagerly awaiting its opening across the pond. After a brief stint at the Donmar Warehouse, it’s now officially open at the Wyndham’s Theatre in the heart of London’s West End. But was it worth the wait?

To put you out of your misery quickly, the answer is a resounding yes. This musical, which tells the story of a struggling family, is a poignant and punchy exploration of grief, drug therapies, and heartbreak. It doesn’t sound uplifting and for the most part, it isn’t, but it’s the trauma and intense emotions that make it such a special piece of theatre. The musical faces harsh realities with unflinching honesty that makes it genuinely affecting and truthful. Alongside this, there are moments of genuine humour, and like real life, there are highs and lows, mixed with dark humour to compensate for grief.

If you’re looking for the healthiest belting in the West End, you’ll find it with every member of the stellar five-person cast of Next to Normal. There’s not a note that doesn’t ring with clarity, support, and power. There are so many standout vocal moments that it’s impossible to pick favourites, and what’s brilliant is that not all of them are the big, loud, dramatic moments. Instead, the musical often thrives in its quieter moments. The belting is highly impressive and impactful, but frequently the smaller, supported moments are the most moving.

To put it lightly, Caissie Levy is a marvel. Her portrayal of Diana, the troubled mother at the centre of the story, is both heart-wrenching and electrifying. Levy’s vocal prowess is matched by her deep emotional delivery, making her performance one of the most memorable in recent West End history. Jamie Parker as Dan brings a grounded, heartfelt presence to the role of Diana’s supportive yet struggling husband. His performance is both tender and raw, capturing the complexities of a man trying to hold his family together.

Eleanor Worthington-Cox shines as Natalie, their overachieving yet deeply affected daughter. Her portrayal is layered and nuanced, capturing the teenage angst and longing for normalcy amidst chaos. Jack Wolfe as Gabe delivers a haunting performance with vocals that soar effortlessly, adding an ethereal quality to his character. Trevor Dion Nicholas as Dr. Madden/Dr. Fine brings a mix of authority and empathy to his roles as Diana’s doctors, his voice resonating powerfully through the theatre. Jack Ofrecio as Henry, Natalie's boyfriend, adds a touch of sweetness and earnestness, providing a much-needed sense of hope and grounding amidst the turmoil.

Thanks to the direction by Michael Longhurst, the cast is able to carry huge emotions throughout scenes, even when they're not at the forefront. The character work is clear, and you could watch this show ten times and notice a different intention or a new heartbreaking expression from any of the cast. Longhurst’s direction allows each actor to shine in their own right while maintaining a cohesive and emotionally charged ensemble performance.

The staging is both intimate and dynamic, perfectly capturing the fluctuating emotions of the characters. The set design by Chloe Lamford, lighting design by Lee Curran and video design by Tal Rosner create a visually stunning backdrop that enhances the storytelling without overwhelming it.

I don’t think this is a show for everyone. Aside from any triggers throughout, it’s a tough show to watch. In many ways, it feels more like a play with music because of the intensity and that’s personally why I enjoyed it so much. However, I can certainly see that it may not be quite as well-received by those who like more positive, “classically musical” musicals. Comparatively, it’s more on the wavelength of the Bridge Theatre revival of Oklahoma, rather than say, Six. Of course, that’s somewhat like comparing oranges and brussels sprouts; they are inherently different, but in a world where theatre is an expensive, occasional treat for many people, I think it’s important to know whether a show will be your vibe or not. And of course, all art is subjective so even if you’re hesitant, you may still love it.

All in all, just to say, Next to Normal isn’t like other shows in the West End. But it is a painful, beautiful, and impeccably performed show which many will love. So, if you’re ready for an emotional rollercoaster with stellar performances and thought-provoking themes, don’t miss Next to Normal at Wyndham’s Theatre. It’s a theatrical experience worth every moment of the 15-year wait.

Reviewed on Wednesday 26th June 2024 by Olivia
Photo Credit: Marc Brenner

{AD PR Invite- tickets gifted in exchange for honest review}