Originally titled “Away We Go!”, this latest incarnation of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! is going some way towards creating a new hit show: after a raft of rave reviews following its run at the Young Vic last May, it has now transferred to the West End’s Wyndham Theatre.

The story revolves around two love triangles. Farm girl Laurey Williams (Anoushka Lucas) is being courted by cowboy Curly McLain (Arthur Darvill) but, uninspired by the pace of his wooing, she accepts an offer of a date from her assistant Jud Fry (Patrick Vaill) despite finding him more than a little creepy in his obsessive adoration of her.

Meanwhile, the dim-but-nice cowboy Will (James Patrick Davis) returns from his trip to Kansas with presents for his capricious paramour Ado Annie (Georgina Onuorah), not realizing that she also has eyes for the emotionally unavailable Persian peddler Ali Hakim (Stavros Demetraki).

Director Daniel Fish has taken this classic musical and amped up the theatrical aspects every which way. His radically naturalistic approach largely shuns artifice and has minimal visual effects. The actors sing under bright lights and perform on a stage shorn of all but a few big props, giving the impression that we are watching a sitzprobe or dress rehearsal.

Fish isn’t above highly dramatic moves: sometimes, the whole hall is plunged into darkness or plumes of cloud bellow across the stalls. The dream sequence is moved after the interval to the beginning of the second act and imagined as a wild dance. The stage is built out into the stalls allowing the actors to get up close and personal with those (un)lucky enough to be front and centre. The script is left chiefly intact but its direction is sexed up to the hilt with many an unabashed display of lust and longing.

All this should be enough to signal that this is a re-imagining that takes no prisoners. There are no surreal or zany touches but there are challenges in every scene to how a venerable veteran musical should look and behave. The excellent cast do well to deliver a show which, for better or worse, is unforgettable.

Fish has created the ultimate marmite musical: I counted around a dozen audience members leaving the venue at the interval with no intention of returning but, at the same time, there was a standing ovation from many in the stalls at the end. Not all of his daring tricks pay off but, when they do, they show up some other West End musicals for the tired tourist traps that they are.

Oklahoma! is booking until 2 September.
Photo credit: Marc Brenner