Richard Turner: My review of Groundhog Day with captions at the Old Vic

Posted on September 9, 2016

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There’s a classic scene from the 1993 film ‘Groundhog Day’ where Bill Murray as the main character Phil Connors, is woken up in his chintzy guesthouse bedroom in the small US town of Punxsutawney, Pittsburgh to the sound of Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe” blaring out of his radio alarm clock. He reaches over to turn it off and stumbles out of bed half-asleep, struggling to put his trousers on.

I often felt like Phil for many years when I had a nine-to-five sales job and struggled to get out of bed at 6.30 am every day to some innocuous tune coming out of my radio alarm clock. Only, unlike Phil, I could escape from it if I really wanted to and every day wasn’t really the same, even though it sometimes felt like it.

He, of course, soon discovers that every day is exactly the same as he wakes up the same way in Punxsutawney on the same day, February 2nd, no matter what he has done during that day and then he has to relive that same day over and over again.

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This is one of my favourite films of all time. Bill Murray was brilliant in it. So when I found out that there was going to be a captioned performance of the new ‘Groundhog Day’ musical at the Old Vic Theatre, I couldn’t wait to see it. Director Matthew Warchus and the team behind the hit musical ‘Matilda’ adapted it for the stage with its world premiere at the Old Vic.

I wondered, though, how any actor would be able to top Bill Murray’s performance as the arrogant TV weather forecaster Phil or how they would be able to capture the oppressive, twee atmosphere of small-town America onstage. But they pulled it off brilliantly!

Actor Andy Karl was great as the cocky, charismatic Phil. He managed to dominate the action on stage for most of the two and a half hours of the performance. I found myself laughing a lot at the funny, quirky dialogue and cheesy songs. My wife and I had really good seats in the stalls with a great view of the stage. I could hear the music and dialogue really well through the hearing loop, which was crystal clear.

The two caption units were placed above me at either side of the circle balcony, so they were slightly obscured, making it a bit difficult to read all the text, but it didn’t spoil the performance. I know how difficult it is in a big theatre to put them in the right position, as you can’t place them directly above the stage when you have a complex set.

The sets were amazingly creative and wacky too. The stage kept rotating round with different sets, showing the brightly coloured streets and houses of a folksy Punxsutawney in the winter alternating with interior scenes of Phil’s twee guesthouse bedroom and the one and only local bar and diner. It looked so magical yet menacingly surreal it was like a cross between a Tim Burton film set and David Lynch’s ‘Twin Peaks’.

Unfortunately, this musical is near the end of its current season (I wish there were more captioned performances). What I particularly enjoyed was watching how Phil, knowing that he is the only person in town who will remember anything about that day, decides to try out different ways to enjoy or exploit the situations he finds himself in during that same day.

For instance, first he decides to go on a hedonistic drinking and sex binge because he knows there will be no hangover or repercussions because tomorrow doesn’t exist. Then he tries to chat up his assistant producer Rita, who is stranded with him on location, by remembering all the things she has told him before and using them to his advantage.

There is a hilarious scene where during a romantic meal together she tells him she had studied French poetry. The first time he heard her say this he replied “What a waste of time!” so she slapped him across the face in disgust. Taking the knock-back in his stride, he then tried lots of different reactions over and over again without success until eventually, we see him actually reciting poetry in French back to her to try and seduce her, which, although she was very impressed with, still didn’t work in getting her upstairs.

I thought it was very clever how the scriptwriters had worked in all the different time loop sequences. It was pure comedy gold!

But then Phil ends up in depression and despair, attempting to kill himself with various forms of suicide in some hilarious scenes of black humour. But no matter how many times he tries to kill himself, he still ends up waking up in the same guesthouse every morning.

Eventually, he confides in Rita about his situation. She suggests he tries just being kind to people instead of being selfish and arrogant. So then he ends up being kind to everyone in the town and even saving people’s lives from accidents, as he knows what’s going to happen to them before they do.

His kindness to Rita eventually wins her over and she falls in love with him. It’s only through this that the spell of the Groundhog Day time warp gets broken and he finally wakes up the next day in the guesthouse with Rita, instead of alone.

There is a sort of redemptive quality about this plot as Phil starts out being totally cynical and condescending towards the town and its people, desperate to escape it, and ends up becoming changed and humbled by the people living there and their kindness. He even ends up falling in love.

It’s a wonderful story and a brilliant musical. It was great to see a unique take on the film too. It was just as good!

Read more of Richard Turner’s writing for Limping Chicken by clicking here.

By Richard Turner. Richard blogs at his own blog, Good Vibrations and works in hearing aid support for Action on Hearing Loss.

The Limping Chicken is the UK’s deaf blogs and news website, and is the world’s most popular deaf blog. It is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne.

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