Regent's Park may be not able to run to an Alpine peak, but the Open Air Theatre in its bosky embrace proves to be a lovely location for this Rodgers and Hammerstein classic in which the presence of the mountains is so strongly felt.
The glades are alive with the sound of music and, wisely eschewing any attempts at gimmicky reworking, Rachel Kavanaugh's revival offers an admirably warm, straightforward and sincerely felt account of its (at times glutinously) sentimental story of nuns and Nazis and a young postulant who brings singing and love back to the motherless, defensively regimented of a widowed naval Captain.
Charlotte Wakefield is winningly headlong, spontaneous and full of life as Maria, hardly seeming much older than a teenager herself at the start and in clear, uncomplicated voice. Her seven charges are played by three rotating sets of child actors and the team I saw were an ideal product of brilliant drilling and bubbling zest, with Imogen Gurney turning in a smart, affecting performance as Brigitta, the insightful 12 year old who notices embarrassing things such as how her nanny and father have fallen in love.
The last time Michael Xavier appeared at this address, he was a suggestively louche Wolf in Into the Woods. He's certainly gone to the opposite extreme now; his Captain von Trapp may be handsome and imposing but he's so stiff with rectitude throughout as to seem incapable of unbending into romance, even (or especially) when discarding his shoes and socks to join Maria for a mutual dunking of feet in the water trough during “Something Good”.
Peter McKintosh's clever circular set serves, with minimal changes, as the abbey (Helen Hobson is in soaring form for “Climb Ev'ry Mountain"), the Captain's estate and the concert hall where, with Nazi banners unfurled and gun-wielding storm-troopers stationed round the audience, the production creates a genuine atmosphere tension and menace when the von Trapp family use their performance at the Salzburg Festival as a camouflage for escape.
The stage version makes more than the film of the political strains within Austria at the time of the Anschluss and Michael Matus, as the comically opportunistic impresario Max, and Caroline Keif's worldly, calculating Elsa bring out all the queasy jauntiness (“You may be bent on deeds of derring-do/But up against a shark what would a herring do?”) in “No Way to Stop It” their duet advocating appeasement. Recommended.
To Sept 7; 0844 826 4242