Next to Normal | Wyndham’s Theatre | Review

Next to Normal

Wyndham’s Theatre

Directed by: Michael Longhurst

Music is written by Tom Kitt with a Book and Lyrics by Brian Yorkey.

With a string of Broadway accolades and a successful London run at the Donmar Warehouse under it’s belt, Next to Normal has opened at the Wyndhams Theatre in the West End

As the programme reminds us, musicals are known for addressing important and difficult issues, Next to Normal is no exception. It is about a family dealing with grief, loss, drug abuse, abandonment, mental health issues and suicidal thoughts. This is ‘their’ normal, and it is a challenging, tough watch.

We are introduced to a suburban family of four, they initially present themselves as a perfect family, but by the end of the first song you realise that they are all struggling. Diana (the mum) has a bipolar disorder brought on by a significant trauma many years before which adversely affects the whole family. Diana gets the most support and is influenced by Gabe, her 18year old son which leaves her daughter Natalie feeling second best and ignored. Her husband Dan desperately tries to hold the family together despite numerous setbacks.

For only six actors to carry a full length musical in the West End is unusual and highly demanding however, it is pulled off magnificently. Cassie Levy (hmm as you would expect) as Diana is astonishing, her battles with trying to obtain the right treatment from doctors (all played by Trevor Dion Nicholas) and her own inner demons are powerfully portrayed. By midway through the first act, when the trauma is revealed and the extent of Diana’s problems become apparent, you are completely invested in the outcome which is testament to the way she holds the audience.

Heartbroken husband Dan is played by Jamie Parker, who also has a string of credits to his name, does not disappoint, his highs and lows are keenly felt, as are his frustrations and fear of failure. Jack Wolfe smashes the role of teenage rebel Gabe. His voice is powerful and sends shockwaves through the audience, it is not surprising that he won a slug of awards when the show was at the Donmar.

Eleanor Worthington-Cox plays the fourth member of the family Natalie, a standout performance of a complex character who disillusionment with life means she chooses a different path. This dismays her on/off boyfriend Henry (played by Jack Ofrecio) who completes this A-Star stellar cast.

Chloe Lamford’s set is predominantly the family home which morphs into surgeries hospitals etc. The musicians are seated on the second floor and are revealed periodically from behind screens. Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s music and lyrics cannot be fit into any one genre, but all of the musical numbers convey exactly what each character is thinking and feeling.

If I have one criticism, after travelling on this family’s undulating journey and becoming totally invested, I felt that the end of the story was a letdown. The family find their individual answers to their problems, and everything seems to be ‘solved’. It is a shame mental illness and family dynamics don’t often work that way, but I guess the audience have to go home at some point.

Next to Normal is not an easy watch and if you are looking for a lovely or entertaining night out, then maybe this isn’t the musical for you However if you are looking for something that is starkly human and executed without fault, Next to Normal is definitely worth a punt.


Reviewer: Sammi O’Neill
Photo: Marc Brenner