Next to Normal
Rating: ★★★★★
Venue: Wyndham's Theatre
Cast: Caissie Levy, Jamie Parker, Jack Wolfe, Eleanor Worthington-Cox, Trevor Dion Nicholas and Jack Ofrecio 

Next to Normal is an intimate exploration of family and illness, loss and grief. At its heart is Diana Goodman (Caissie Levy in an Olivier Award-nominated performance), a suburban wife and mother living with bipolar disorder and haunted by her past.

After a sold out run at the Donmar Warehouse, Next to Normal returns to the London theatre scene, this time at the beautiful Wyndham's Theatre. Reuniting the creative team and the award-winning cast, this new season of Next to Normal is one of the most anticipated events of the summer.

Caissie Levy is back as Diana Goodman, a suburban mother struggling with bipolar disorder, and reprises the performance that earned her an Olivier Award nomination for Best Actress in a Musical. Levy's ability to hit the emotional beats is undeniable, and a marvel to behold. The way she captures the desperation, the pain, the anguish when she’s on stage is so powerful, it’s impossible to look away. But the true charm in her performance lays in the balance she strikes between the darkness and the moments of levity, where glimmers of humour poke through the veil of despair.

Jack Wolfe was one of the breakthrough performances in the 2023 theatre calendar, and seeing him back in the role that won him multiple accolades was a delight. The charisma he brings to his performance as Gabe is unmatched, not to mention his breath-taking vocals. We have seen him bring the house down with his rendition of I’m Alive in events like the WhatsOnStage Awards and the Oliviers, and it never gets old. The rockstar quality of his performance while maintaining the sweetness of Gabe is just amazing.

Youngest-ever Olivier award winner Eleanor Worthington-Cox delivers the performance of a lifetime as Natalie. Equal measures of quirky and tortured, the mix she brings on stage is only eclipsed by her vocal prowess. The chemistry (no pun intended) she shares with Levy adds an extra layer of depth to numbers like Maybe and Superboy and the Invisible Girl.

Playing the role of Dan, the father and husband of the family, Olivier award winner Jamie Parker works as the contrast to Diana’s unravelling. Always steadfast, and —in this run more than at the Donmar— a hopeful, loving partner who only wants to see his wife get better. In the press call, while in conversation with the rest of the cast, Parker highlighted that he felt the biggest difference between the productions was in the maturing of the relationship between Diana and Dan, and it shows. It makes every high brighter and every low even more of a gut punch, because Parker makes you believe that Dan is so certain things can and will get better, only to have his hopes shattered by the setbacks Diana experiences in her journey.

Jack Ofrecio is an endearing drop of sweetness in a sea of bitterness in his depiction of Henry, as his character stands by Natalie and offers her the priceless gift of hope. Trevor Dion Nicholas playing Dr Fine and Dr Madden puts the medical complexity of mental health in the foreground. His characters highlight how even “seeking help” (a modern day mantra) is not the be-all end-all, that mental health struggles are not a straight line from bad to good, and that no-one really has the answer. In one of the brilliant lyrics near the end, Dr Madden says so himself, “Is medicine magic? you know that it’s not” but at the same time reminds Diana that that is no reason to give up and stop trying.

Directed by Michael Longhurst, this production captures a lot of what made it such an incredible experience at the Donmar. Even though there was a lot of scepticism about how the piece would translate from the intimate confines of the Donmar into a Proscenium stage, I am happy to report that the sacrifices made were absolutely worthwhile. While it is true that the almost voyeuristic nature of putting on such a piece in a smaller space with a thrust stage is almost completely gone, the anonymity of being in the middle of a large audience allows for more freedom to let your emotions run wild. The Wyndham's also offered Longhurst the opportunity to employ the vertical space even more. Because as an audience member you can see the whole picture at all times, the incredible use of lighting and projections has an even bigger impact.

What to say of the orchestrations? Words can’t quite encapsulate the brilliance of the music, how the talented musicians bring to life the work of Tom Kitt and make it another character of the show. Seeing the band on stage is always a delight, and I am happy to see so many shows finding creative ways to incorporate them into the staging.

Speaking of the staging, Chloe Lamford (who is also responsible for costume design) is an absolute genius. From the first moment you see the Goodman's household, you get a very clear picture of who this family is. The rotating platform in the middle of the stage is used masterfully, and the choreography built for, and around it, really exploits the physicality of a show all about the mind.

This show is not an easy watch. It deals with the darkest depths of human emotion, but it also reminds us that “Day after day, we’ll find the will to find a way, knowing that the darkest skies will some day see the sun”, and that is the reason why this show is a must-watch.

You can book tickets to see Next to Normal, here.

Review by Luma

**photo credit: Marc Brenner**

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