Oklahoma at the Young Vic

Review: Oklahoma! at the Young Vic

Review: Oklahoma! at the Young Vic

The age-old classic musical Oklahoma! is reinvigorated into a fresh and provocative production at the Young Vic. Adam Davidson reviews…

Straight from a Tony-award winning run on Broadway and a US tour, Daniel Fish’s bold reinvention of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic Oklahoma! comes to Lambeth’s Young Vic for a limited run.

The Young Vic is transformed into a brightly-lit midwestern frontier dancehall with the audience in close proximity and at the heart of the action. The fourth wall is torn down, if it ever existed in the first place, as we become a side character in the drama.

The usual start to a play has also been turned on its head – typically, the lights dim and the distinction between the play and reality are drawn. However, for this reinterpretation, the lights remain so that the audience is not granted that comfort.

In certain dark moments, like the song ‘Poor Jud is Daid’, all the lights go out and the audience is submerged in complete darkness. It certainly awakens the senses and your full concentration is on the unsettling lyrics.

Oklahoma! is a musical that deals with dark themes that are still relevant in the 21st century such as the issues of the commodification of women and toxic masculinity. Previous productions may have skirted around these issues but Daniel Fish’s reinvention puts them firmly at the centre through the classic story of the love triangle between Laurey (Anoushka Lucas), cowboy Curly (Arthur Darvill) and the farmhand Jud (Patrick Vaill.)

The consequences of these societal issues are perfectly encapsulated through Anoushka Lucas’ powerful portrayal of Laurey through raw emotion and her moving soulful singing that echoes around the theatre.

Despite the hard-hitting themes, there are many moments of comic relief too. This makes the production hard to categorise. But that’s no bad thing. It had moments of hilarity, unsettling tension, while also being quite raucous.

The second half opens with a psychedelic dream sequence in which smoke fills the room and an electric interpretation of ‘Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’ plays as dancer Marie-Astrid Mence glides across the stage.

The discordant music in this scene is reminiscent of early Pink Floyd and the whole scene leaves the audience shocked, but that is the intention, to be provocative and challenge any preconceptions we had of this age-old musical.

Reinventing a seemingly outdated musical that will turn 80 next year and making it fresh and relevant to a modern audience is no mean feat – this production of Oklahoma! is nothing short of a stroke of genius from all involved.

Running until 25 June

Photo: Marc Brenner.