I don’t consider myself a musical fan but, in the spirit of broadening my horizons, I popped along to check out I Do! I Do! a musical currently setting up home in Upstairs at The Gatehouse. I’m glad I did.
Based on the 1951 play The Fourposter by Jan de Hartog, this two-hander was first seen on Broadway in 1966. Agnes and Michael enter their nuptial home as newlyweds during the first number, and from there the entire performance (is there a better synonym for marriage?) takes place in the bedroom they occupy over the following 50 years (1890-1940) with births (for her), career highs (for him), extramarital affair (for him), and the various joys and miseries of two people agreeing to spend their lives together other under one roof.
Gemma Maclean as Agnes and Ben Morris as Michael put in two charming performances full of gusto (as did Henry Brennan in the shadows accompanying them), belting out great vocals and nifty footwork in the long space of Upstairs. The set design was very pretty, very Paperchase, although the overall feel was, to me, more 1950’s than late Victorian, which is when the action commences. The costumes were a confusing hodgepodge, mixing Victorian bloomers with mid-century dresses before we hit the mid-century and when we were definitely out of the Victorian era. Perhaps this was a clever insinuation that Victorian ideas were doomed to dog this relationship?
I Do! I Do! does not throw shade at the sanctity of marriage, or have Agnes responding to her husband’s affair by walking out the door and having her own, and from the sounds of it their two well-balanced kids (one boy, one girl, how perfect), grow up to be heterosexual and in their turn get married on cue. I Do! I Do! pootles along, with no curveballs, no surprises, and then it ends with acceptance of, if not contentment at, the couple’s sense of a lifetime’s duties having been served. It’s bittersweet for them, as it was for many people. Theatre is an art form of many spectrums, and I go to it looking for different things at different times.
I Do! I Do! is, apparently, rarely revived. Despite having enjoyed it, it wasn’t hard to understand why. It feels dated. It is dated. But that is to be expected from a show based on a 50’s play. Things were the way they were, and some writers simply capture a snapshot. Though I’m well aware of its problems (white, heteronormative, pre-feminist-anything), I would consider those problems in the important sense of the word only if it were written in the last ten years. But it’s a musical written in the 60’s based on a play from the 50’s set in the Victorian/Edwardian/Georgian eras. I felt I was watching a relic. And there was something touching about knowing this was how so many women and men lived out their lives, doing what they thought was expected rather than what they wanted, and finding bitternesses and contentment in it.
I wouldn’t want to live like Agnes, as many people wouldn’t, but I enjoyed this show. Maybe I’m getting easy to please or just plain lazy in my old age, but sometimes, I just want to go to the theatre to take a load off and escape from the godawful mess everything seems to be in right now. Sometimes I go to the theatre to forget how things are, not to be reminded of how they are. Sometimes, an old-fashioned out-of-date musical about marriage is just what the doctor ordered. Maybe that’s just me.
Director: Joseph Hodges
Based on: ‘The Fourposter’ by Jan de Hartog
Musical Director: Henry Brennan
Set Designer: Emily Bestow
Sound Designer: Phil Wilson
Music & lyrics: Harvey Schmidt & Tom Jones
Booking until: 16th November