Groundhog Day, Old Vic, review: ‘resonant and nuanced, a total creative triumph’

Groundhog Day at the Old Vic. Picture. Manuel Harlan.

Groundhog Day at the Old Vic. Picture. Manuel Harlan. - Credit: Archant

The high-speed lyrical wit and richly layered variations means it will – appropriately enough – reward endless repeat trips.

If the Matilda team felt pressure to repeat their success – and live up to Harold Ramis’s beloved Bill Murray-starring film – there’s no sign of it in this sensational adaptation, easily the best new home-grown musical of recent times.

Jaded weatherman Phil Connors winds up trapped in a purgatorial time loop in folksy, “small-town USA” Punxsutawney, reliving one day again and again until he finds redemption.

Screenwriter-turned-book writer Danny Rubin sticks closely to the original, though there’s welcome development of the lead female role.

Director Matthew Warchus and choreographer Peter Darling superbly convey the tricky metaphysical premise through meticulous and at times surreally expressionistic repetitions, crisply performed by a well-drilled ensemble.


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Theirs is an inventive, firmly theatrical staging, offering playful lo-fi versions of filmic set-pieces – assisted by Rob Howell’s design, Paul Kieve’s illusions and a superb orchestra.

Tim Minchin’s luminous, narrative-driven score is a feast of styles, from mellow bluegrass to nihilistic rock.

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The high-speed lyrical wit and richly layered variations means it will – appropriately enough – reward endless repeat trips.

American actor Andy Karl delivers a star-making turn. Where Murray was laconic, his Phil is a pill-popping sleazebag masking vulnerability with furious sarcasm.

Karl’s versatile performance, effortless vocals and dynamic physical comedy are sensational.

As Rita, assured, clear-voiced Carlyss Peer wryly ponders contradictory 21st century romance, and there’s strong support from Andrew Langtree and Georgina Hagen.

It’s a resonant piece, from the hopelessness of those trapped by circumstance to regional culture gulfs and the role of community.

The nuanced climax avoids syrupy sentimentality – love is the redeemer, but it’s a messy force, both rooted in knowledge and experience and bursting through in the shock of a world made fresh.

The familiar becomes the great innovator, as it does in this total creative triumph.

Rating: 5/5 stars

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