oklahoma wyndham's

Review: Oklahoma!, Wyndham’s Theatre

Review: Oklahoma!, Wyndham’s Theatre

Deconstructed classic.


In 1945, Oklahoma! embarked on a tour to be performed for the troops during and after the war. There hasn’t been a show – probably until this very day – as morale-boosting, as spirit-uplifting as this triumphant story of the free American “territory folks”, a quintessential pioneering drama.

The plot is deceptively simple. Curly, the cowboy, and Jud, the farmhand, are both in love with the same girl, beautiful Laurey. Curly is everything that’s bright, sunny and sincere – he enters stage right praising the beautiful morning, promises to take Laurie for a dance in a lush “surrey with the fringe on top” and in a climactic ending, leads the ensemble to exalt their motherland “where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain / and the wavin’ wheat can sure smell sweet / when the wind comes right behind the rain.” Jud is the opposite – he lives in a shed and fantasises about his own death. Who Laurey chooses is not exactly of any surprise.

The brand-new production of Oklahoma! – that finally hit West End after sweeping the Tony Awards a couple of years ago and then a short run at the Young Vic – is anything but this quintessential pioneering drama. Director Daniel Fish went out of his way to analyse every single thread of every single trope building this cultural landmark eight decades old – and then carefully turned it inside out. The de(con)struction is complete. And thus, instead of a sweet settlement in Oklahoma Territory, we have a sort of small town limbo, consisting of barebone stage, a couple of wooden tables and chairs, some pots and anachronistic tins of Bud Light. Anthemic “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” sounds almost ironic amongst the bizarre emptiness. Jud is no longer a looney farmhand. Portrayed by Patrick Vaill (who’s been with the show since its pre-Broadway run at Bard College, New York), he is a Verlaine-type melancholic – a talented, depressed artist, slightly unstable mentally but basically innocent. This contrasts with Curly (Arthur Darvill) who is careless and borderline a bully. Laurey’s (Anoushka Lucas) sexual undertones of her seemingly innocent choice of men have become explicit and even overpowering, as emphasised by the long modern dance sequence that replaced the classical dream ballet. “People Will Say We’re In Love” is now more a duet of two kittens playfully purring to one another than a classical show tune it was written as.

Perhaps most importantly, this new deconstructed Oklahoma! is insanely synaesthetic. At once, the stage and auditorium are covered in bright light to forego the fourth wall only to switch to a complete blackout. At times, there is a handheld camera on stage to show characters’ faces in extremely uncomfortable close-up. Sound design (excellent) is manipulated with different types of microphones. All in all, it’s borderline trippy but sublimely executed.

If you are to choose one West End musical to see this spring, let it be Oklahoma! It’s probably nothing like you expect it to be – it is even better. I don’t say it lightly, but Daniel Fish’s Oklahoma! is a masterpiece.

Wyndham’s Theatre

Image: Anoushka Lucas (Laurey Williams) and Arthur Darvill (Curly McLain) in Oklahoma! Photo by Marc Brenner