In Defence of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

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Photo: Alastair Muir

I have a confession to make.

I’m a musicals fan.

I’m not just talking about the hip musicals like Rent, or the impossible-to-hate musicals like Book of Mormon, or the constantly-shoved-down-your-throat musicals like Les Miz. I love the really cheesy ones. The all-singing, all-dancing ones stuffed with terrible Southern accents, flouncy skirts and questionable plots.

This obsession may go some way to explain why I spent last Saturday afternoon sipping a glass of Pimms in the sunshine and cackling at a new production of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre.

Ah, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. That hideously outdated, outlandishly misogynistic, sickly sweet monstrosity with a plot that beautifully illustrates the concept of Stockholm Syndrome.

God I love it.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the finer details of the plot, it goes something like this:

  1. Reclusive man makes long-overdue trip to town to pick up food and wife.
  2. Reclusive man spots woman who fits his description of ‘Not too short, not too thin, can cook, will work.’
  3. Reclusive man marries said woman and carries her off to his mountain home.
  4. Said woman meets reclusive man’s 6 brothers. She punishes him by refusing to have sex with him.
  5. She has sex with him.
  6. She washes said brothers’ clothes and teaches them to woo human women.
  7. Brothers use newly acquired wooing skills to dance with six unmarried women in town.
  8. Brothers return to mountain alone. Are sad. And horny.
  9. Reclusive man suggests brothers kidnap six unmarried women.
  10. Brothers kidnap six unmarried women then lock themselves in a barn until spring.
  11. Reclusive man fights with wife and moves to a mountain cave for 6 months.
  12. Spring arrives. There is mass forgiveness. More wooing.
  13. Reclusive man’s wife has baby. Reclusive man returns.
  14. Townspeople arrive at mountain to reclaim unmarried women.
  15. Unmarried women claim baby is theirs.
  16. Unmarried women must stay on mountain.
  17. There is much rejoicing.

The story is punctuated with songs, featuring lyrics such as  “They acted angry and annoyed – but secretly they was overjoyed”. Modern it certainly is not.

And yet, despite the seriously questionable morality of the storyline, the soaring music, wonderful dancing and thigh slapping brings me joy. The leaping and twirling is shamelessly uplifting, the songs are irresistibly catchy and there’s just enough male nudity to balance out the women bashing.

The production at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre captures all the wonderful qualities of this particular musical. The outdoor staging suits the show’s woodland setting perfectly. Laura Pitt-Pulford and Alex Gaumond have great chemistry as Adam and Milly (aka Reclusive Man and Said Woman), almost allowing you to forget the highly questionable circumstances of their marriage. The dance sequences (always at the centre of Seven Brides) are spectacular and Rachel Kavanaugh’s direction injects a wry humour and much-needed self-awareness into the script.

If you’re curious about dipping a toe into the frothy world of Seven Brides, you won’t see it done better than this – but don’t endanger your modern sensibilities by bringing them along.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is on at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre until 29th August 2015.


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