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Next to Normal | Wyndham’s Theatre

There are only a handful of shows that come along out of nowhere, and profoundly affect you to such a degree that you feel changed for the better; with Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s Tony and Pulitzer winning musical Next To Normal. One such example of said criteria, it feels like a mirror is being held up to society, as it directly, warts and all, tackles very human issues such as mental health, depression, grief and drug abuse, and how these impact on different individuals in such contrasting manners.

Next To Normal follows the trials and tribulations of the Goodman family, how matriarch Diana navigates bipolar disorder, the lengths she’ll go to in order to numb the pain, and the effect it has on her husband and children. Most prominently featured are her daughter Natalie and her boyfriend Henry, as we see just how adversely familial conflict can play on the impressionable minds of young people, as well as the fractured relationship shared between Diana and husband Dan; as we are introduced to what initially presents itself as a regular family dynamic, we soon come to discover not everything is as it appears.

The way in which the heavy-hitting subject matter is addressed is raw, unabridged, and abundantly sincere, and builds gradually throughout, with the first act initially being approached with a degree of humour and nonchalance, but really coming to a head in the latter part, setting us up for a truly gut-wrenching act 2. There is always a danger when discussing any sensitive thematic material that the overriding plot can get lost in a sea of psychological triggers, however, what this show does so well is balance the delivery of the narrative material with its unashamed treatment of taboo subjects; there are moments that genuinely shock, but not to such a degree that we forget about the characters and their respective journeys, if anything it strengthens the connection we develop with them, which simply has to be applauded.

It’s easy to see why Kitt and Yorkey put themselves so firmly on the musical theatre map with this musical 15 years ago, Kitt’s score is gorgeously composed, with a mix of rock, folk and traditional showtunes, and his talent for orchestration is on full display, with particularly potent use of bowed strings, all performed sensationally by a supremely talented 5-piece band. Lyrically though is where this musical hits its stride, we are treated to some devastatingly beautiful lyrics, as well as some that are beautifully devastating, proving there are absolutely no half measures when it comes to addressing grief, addiction or mental illness.

Having seen the show at Donmar Warehouse in 2023, this reviewer had a very good idea of what to expect, and the centrepiece of this stunning production is still the perfectly assembled cast, who dazzle and delight in their delivery of Kitt and Yorkey’s material; Caissie Levy leads the line gloriously as Diana, with a performance of nuance, complexity, and real emotional and artistic maturity, belting her way magnificently through the rousing power ballad “I Miss The Mountains”, and subsequently breaking every single heart in the room during “How Could I Ever Forget” during the second act; this was perhaps the performance of her life, and it will take some serious topping.

The other major standouts were Eleanor Worthington-Cox as teenage daughter Natalie, with a controlled yet intense performance that would prove hugely psychologically exhausting to many seasoned performers, yet she manages to make it seem effortless, and her on stage relationship with Jack Ofrecio is wonderful, as they portray a tumultuous, yet heartfelt love story. Jack Wolfe deserves equal praise, portraying Gabe with wild abandon, particularly in his delivery of the act 1 anthem “I’m Alive”, whipping the audience up into a frenzy in spite of the dark undertones. The older Goodman sibling, for a multitude of reasons, is perhaps one of the most difficult to take on, due to the constant shifts in perspective and how open he is to interpretation, and Wolfe manages to nail these expertly.

It was a joy to see the same creative team return from the Donmar run, with the stunning set designed by Chloe Lamford also making the move, with the band looming over the set of the Goodman kitchen, which through some innovative design elements transforms into various other set pieces, including a therapist’s office and an operating table. Perhaps the most impressive creative aspects though were lighting by Lee Curran, as well as video design by Tal Rosner, with some haunting, jarring visuals that helped us truly understand the psyche of someone suffering with so much internal turmoil. This really is a musical like none other: brutal, unashamed, and simply sublime, quite possibly the best show currently running in the West End, the only criticism is that it’s only playing for such a short period of time.

Next to Normal runs at Wyndham’s Theatre until 21st September - for tickets and more information, you can follow the link here.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (5*)

Gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by Marc Brenner


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