Rating: ★★★★
Venue: Wyndham's Theatre, London
Cast: Raphael Bushay, Arthur Darvill, James Patrick Davis, Stavros Demetraki, Greg Hicks, Rebekah Hinds, Anoushka Lucas, Marie-Astrid Mence, Liza Sadovy, Patrick Vaill, Georgina Onuorah and Phillip Olagoke

OKLAHOMA! tells a story of a community banding together against an outsider, and the frontier life that shaped America. Eighty years after Rodgers & Hammerstein reinvented the American musical, this visionary production is funny and sexy, provocative and probing, without changing a word of the text.

If you're expecting a traditional adaptation of the much-loved classic, Oklahoma!, you'll be sorely disappointed. Daniel Fish's modern twist on a usually light-hearted but subtly dark production elevates the show to new heights. You'll likely leave feeling both excited and confused. It's truly a ground breaking piece of theatre.

If you're unfamiliar with Oklahoma!, it follows the love triangle of farm girl Laurey (Lucas) and her two potential love interests: Jud (Vaill) and Curly (Darvill). Where Curly is overzealous and bold, Jud is quiet and intense. And there's also the overly affectionate Ado Annie (Onuorah), who has a love triangle of her own: fun-loving Will (Patrick Davis) and commitment-phobe Ali (Demetraki). That's about where the similarities start and end with the original piece. While it is a modern take, it manages not to lose the essence of the story; which I think is the most important aspect.

While there isn't a weak member among the cast, the stars of the show for me were Arthur Darvill, Patrick Vaill and Georgia Onuorah. Georgia bought the light hearted comedy the piece desperately needed in this darker take of Oklahoma! Darvill's voice sure is "purty", and from the opening note he manages to captivate the audience. Vaill's portrayal of Jud is both harrowing and flawed. Jud's love for Laurey came across as sinister and primitive; and the use of lighting throughout reflected that beautifully.

The production is stripped back and bare. The house lights are up for the entire performance which is slightly jarring, but also made any changes in light even more striking and powerful. There are several blackouts throughout the piece, which I think is worth mentioning. These blackouts were bone tingling and the use of microphones to really fill every corner of the room was enough to give me goosebumps.

I also enjoyed the extreme close ups with the use of a video camera, which made for a chilling backdrop among key moments within the show. In particular, "Pore Jud is Daid" was one of the most dramatic but simplistic performances I've seen. Other standout performances were "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning", sung by Darvill and "I Cain't Say No", sung by Onuorah. 

Seeing the orchestra in full view really adds to the production; especially with the house lights being up for the majority of the performance. One thing I will say is that I definitely feel as though this show worked better when performed in a round. Where you once felt immersed and involved; you now feel disconnected and miles away.

Another aspect I'm still baffled by was the dream dance sequence at the beginning of act two. It felt both displaced and disjointed, and little difference would be made to the show if it was removed entirely. It felt like a drawn out 15 minute sequence for little reason whatsoever. 

However, this adaptation is raw, striking, dark and sexy; words I never thought I'd use to describe an adaptation of Oklahoma! For the shock value itself, it's worth experiencing the show. But the cast and the unique way of telling this much-loved story almost feels like you're witnessing a different show altogether; which, I, for one, loved. 

Book tickets to see Oklahoma! at the Wyndham's Theatre, here.

**photography by Marc Brenner**

No comments