The Bridges of Madison County Review

Menier Chocolate Factory – until 14 September 2019

Reviewed by Claire Roderick


I haven’t read Robert James Walker’s novel, and find the film an effective cure for insomnia, so a musical version of The Bridges of Madison County wasn’t an exciting prospect, but this beautiful show had me hooked from the first strains of Jason Robert Brown’s romantic music.

The story of a brief but intense affair between photographer Robert Kincaid (Edward Baker-Duly) and Italian war bride Francesca (Jenna Russell) is a slow burn, but the performances and score make this a lushly languid story that you don’t want to end. As Francesca’s Farmer husband Bud (Dale Ripley) and teenage children take a trip to the State Fair, Kincaid turns up at their farm and asks Francesca for directions to one of the covered bridges he is photographing, and Francesca seizes her chance for passion in a life in which she feels trapped. Russell and Baker-Duly capture the not-so-subtle dance as the two edge closer towards each other and declare their feelings, with some gloriously swoonsome songs along the way. Russell is magnificent as Francesca, nailing the unbridled joy and guilt with subtle gestures and expressions. Baker-Duly is pure matinee idol gold, breaking your heart in his final number full of regret and loss.

Punctuated by phone calls from her solidly unexciting husband and squabbling children, and comedy moments from nosy and seemingly judgemental neighbour Marge and husband Charlie, the slow pace of the romance may be off-putting to audiences more used to the flashy fast paced musicals in the West End, but for me it was a welcome change of pace to just sit back and bask in the romance. Each cast member gets a big number, and they all grab their moment to shine brilliantly, but Shanay Holmes deserves a mention for her mesmeric performance as Kincaid’s ex Marian, singing Another Life

The only reason this show doesn’t get 5 stars is the clunky staging. Using a revolve to bring on the kitchen set slows the action down to snail’s pace and by the second act, a sea of shoulders were shaking with giggles as the kitchen table trundled on yet again. I am not sure if Robert’s truck was supposed to be comedic, but it made a lot of people laugh, and why bother bringing on a huge and quite ridiculous piece of set to represent the bridge for 5 minutes when later in the show Tal Rosner’s projections and Tim Lutkin’s lighting create a much more simple and evocative representation of the location? Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. The projections and lighting are enough to convey a sense of place, time and longing throughout the entire show without the mechanical hoo-ha.

This lushly romantic and grownup musical will melt your heart, perfect entertainment for steamy summer nights.