Review – Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

Oct 1 2013 | By More

✭✭✭✭✩   Redeemingly exuberant

The big Social Dance is the highlight of Act One. Photo © Helen Jones

The big Social Dance is the highlight of Act One. Photo © Helen Jones

Edinburgh Playhouse
Mon 30 Sept – Sat 5 Oct, 2013
Review by Thom Dibdin

Dancing and singing – but mostly dancing – all the way, the big touring production of Seven Brides for Severn Brothers, climbs high into the Oregon mountains as it arrives at the Edinburgh Playhouse for a week-long stay.

Adapted from the 1954 movie, this is the story of backwoods farmer Adam Pontipee who adds a bride to his shopping list when he steps down to the local town to get the provisions. And young Milly who is blessed with the beautiful hide which catches his eye.

Unfortunately for Milly, who falls for Adam after a five-minute whirlwind romance, the warning that he “might not even be a presbyterian” falls rather short of the mark. When she arrives at the far-off farmstead, she discovers he is just the oldest of seven brothers living there. At least her chores are confined to cooking and cleaning for the Pontipees.

It is easy to overlook Adam’s unreconstructed ways, thanks to Helena Blackman. The runner-up in the BBC’s hunt for a Maria brings a no-nonsense attitude to rival the size of her voice to the role of Milly.

And while Sam Attwater has a certain tendency to let his accent wander into Antipodean waters, he is convincingly arrogant as Adam, who quickly reverts to the slobbish ways of his brothers when back on the farm.

The only way out for Milly is to get the brothers out courting – and quick. No sooner thought, than one quick dance/transformation sequence later and they are back in town, fruit pies in hand, ready to court Milly’s friends at the latest social dance.

And suddenly this breaks out into one of the most glorious, old fashioned dance sequence to burn up the Playhouse stage for a while. The big, boisterous social dance is a triumph of Patti Colombo’s choreography, storytelling, dancing and acrobatics.

Hungry for the hunky woodsmen
The life of a backwoodsman. Photo © Helen Jones

The life of a backwoodsman. Photo © Helen Jones

Six brothers, six potential girlfriends hungry for the hunky woodsmen, and six townsmen, not altogether happy that their girls’ eyes are wandering, make for what is essentially six trios, bursting with lust and aggression, that whirl around the stage and teeter on the edge of violence.

The “excuse-me” nature of the dance allow the two sets of suitors to alternate dancing with the girls.  The dance itself is an energetic stomp which swings between ceilidh, barn dance and jig, with a whole strand of acrobatics that weaves ever more tightly into the frame.

After the splendours of this display, little wonder that the brothers are somewhat miffed to have to return home empty handed. Although Adam’s neanderthal instinct is quick to raise its head and under his guidance they soon head back in town, intent on kidnapping the girls.

And once again it goes close to taking a thoroughly nasty little step outside the realm of acceptability. You might even cite Stockholm Syndrome as the captured girls fall for the boys.

Fortunately it is presented in a rather more complex fashion than that. And as Act Two gets under way, We Gotta Make It Through the Winter – sung first by the Brothers, then by Milly and the Brides and finally in a reprise, off-stage accompaniment to Lonesome Polecat – brings the show back on course.

It can never quite capture the unbridled joy of that Act One Social Dance sequence – although it tries with its big wedding dance at the end. But the result lacks edge of the previous dance, and the flamboyant use acrobatics.

But all told, this is great stuff. The scenery might be basic, but it is cleverly utilised to evoke the towering forests and mountains, with a strong art deco feel to the backcloths at times.

More to the point, the 25-strong company keeps it going with energy and pace. The singing from the principals is strong and tuneful, and while the dancers can throw each other over their heads, as soon as spin each other round, they give equal power to the music.

Running time 2 hrs 20 mins.
Edinburgh Playhouse, 18 – 22 Greenside Place, Edinburgh, EH1 3AA
Run ends Saturday, 5 October.
Daily 7.30pm, matinee Wed, Sat, 2.30pm.

Click here to go to Æ’s Amazon shop with links to original cast recordings and the original movie on DVD

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers on Tour
7 – 12 October 2013 Wimbledon
New Wimbledon Theatre
 0844 871 7646 Book online
14 – 19 October 2013 Crewe
Lyceum Theatre
 01270 368 242 Book online
21 – 26 October 2013 Manchester
Opera House
0844 871 3018 Book online
28 Oct – 2 Nov 2013 Aylesbury
Waterside Theatre
08448 717 627 Book online
5 – 9 November 2013 Cheltenham
Everyman Theatre
 01242 572573 Book online
11 – 16 November 2013 Blackpool
Grand Theatre
Book online
18 – 23 November 2013 Sunderland
Book online
25 – 30 November 2013 Glasgow
Kings Theatre
08448 717647 Book online
13 – 18 January 2014 Bristol
0844 871 3012 Book online
20 – 25 January 2014 Bournemouth
Pavilion Theatre
0844 576 3000 Book online
27 Jan – 1 Feb 2014 Dublin
Bord Gáis Energy Theatre
0818 719 377 Book online
3 – 8 February 2014 Birmingham
New Alexandra Theatre
0844 871 3011 Book online
18 – 22 February 2014 Dartford
Orchard Theatre
 01322 220000 Book online
24 Feb – 1 Mar 2014 Liverpool
08448 713 017 Book online
4 – 8 March 2014 Southsea
King’s Theatre
Book online
10 – 15 March 2014 Oxford
New Theatre
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17 – 22 March 2014 Croydon
Ashcroft Theatre, Fairfield Halls
Book online
31 Mar – 5 Apr 2014 Wolverhampton
Grand Theatre
 01902 429212 Book online
7 – 12 April 2014 Brighton
Theatre Royal
Book online
21 – 26 April 2014 Woking
New Victoria Theatre
 0844 871 7645 Book online
28 Apr – 3 May 2014 Richmond
Richmond Theatre
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5 – 10 May 2014 Stoke
Regent Theatre
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