Set in Georgia in the 1860s, Margaret Mitchell’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1936 novel follows Scarlett’s journey from a life of luxury on her father’s plantation through the Civil War and the hardships it heaps on her and her family to the rocky post-war peace, with her love for Ashley Wilkes and the renegade Rhett Butler adding fuel to the fire.
Investors must have hoped to emulate at least some of the success of Victor Fleming’s seminal 1939 film version starring Clarke Gable and Vivien Leigh, which won ten Oscars and became one of the biggest box office successes in Hollywood history. However, after cancelled previews (See News, 14 Apr 2008) and rumours of audience walkouts, Aldo Scrofani and Colin Ingram, producers of the new stage version, must have picked up this morning’s papers with some trepidation.
Overnight reviews were almost unanimously hostile. While many critics were exhausted by the running time - still clocking in at three hours 40 minutes after substantial cuts during previews - poor structuring was the bigger gripe. And Margaret Martin’s score didn’t fare much better, with a “knock-out” gospel slave song in the second act being singled out by many as the only musical highlight. Performance-wise, Natasha Yvette Williams’ Mammy eclipsed stars Jill Paice and Darius Danesh for critical raves, but still couldn’t prevent Gone With the Wind being labelled “extravagantly pointless”.
Of course, don’t forget, critics famously got it wrong for another mammoth Trevor Nunn-directed musical adaptation of a literary classic: after a first night mauling, Les Miserables went on to become the West End’s longest-running musical, now in its 23rd year.
- by Theo Bosanquet