Groundhog Day at The Old Vic

What is there to add to one of the more perfect film comedies of all time? Sæunn, Sam and Michael each give their own review of the new Tim Minchin musical version at Old Vic.

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What is there to add to one of the more perfect film comedies of all time?

The Old Vic’s musical adaptation focuses on the sadness. “Awwww… Yayyyy!” they sigh and cheer, winter’s not ending anytime soon but still they cheer, over and over and over again. Phil Connors is reliving his least favourite day of the entire year, it’s cold, it’s dark, it’s small-town, and there’s a groundhog predicting the future of weather – which is normally his job. His nightmare turns briefly into a fantastic adventure when he realises he can do whatever the hell he wants, and he does, because there are no consequences. But just as quickly it spirals back to what it truly is, a nightmare. But is Phil truly the only one who’s trapped?

The musical mostly follows the movie and the jokes surrounding the repetition are well executed, especially the thrilling drunken car chase. There’s the addition of one scene where a bunch of quacks try to offer Phil a cure for his ailments in exchange for a hefty sum of money, this is all presented in the most Tim Minchin-y song of the whole show where the quacks sing in unison “For all the good I’m going to do, you might as well be praying”.

A series of suicides follow, all of which are impressively well realised through a combination of brilliant set design and illusions – at one point we see Phil dropping a toaster into his bathtub and then immediately waking up in his bed. Eventually Phil realises that a life without consequences is not one to be desired and starts to use his superior knowledge of February 2nd to help people. Phil is not the only one in Punxsutawney who wants his life to turn around, or continue rather, so when things finally get resolved in the most heart-tugging way, you’re glad. They deserve it – they’ve waited long enough.

Sæunn Rut Sævarsdottir


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What is there to add to one of the more perfect film comedies of all time?

In The Old Vic’s musical adaptation, they double down on the sadness. It’s not only the predicament of Phil Connors, whose reliving of the same day over and over is a metaphor for his undiagnosed depression. The supporting characters are just as miserable. Phil’s love interests Rita and Nancy – one celibate, one promiscuous – are equally lonely. Ned Ryerson’s passion for life insurance and forced joviality are explained by the death of his partner and responsibility for a hoard of kids who’ve lost their mother. The entire population of Punxsutawney, PA feel like the groundhog is telling them their own, personal winters are not about to end anytime soon.

This hinterland is well served by a series of affecting songs, but the rest of the show is a riot. We, naturally, have a lot of fun with repetition, the best deadpan gags from the movie are all present and correct, a drunken car chase is thrillingly realised, and there’s a knockabout scene where a series of quacks try to cure Phil with everything from spiritual healing to enemas (for a small town, Punxsutawney has a lot of alternative therapists).

Groundhog Day revolves around a depressed man repeatedly trying to kill himself. If that wasn’t hilarious enough, this production makes clear that he’s not the only one who’s trapped, that everyone around him is also forlornly hoping their lives will turn around “if not tomorrow, perhaps the day after.” When this most unsentimental of set-ups is resolved in an ending of the highest sentiment, you’re glad. They deserve it – they’ve waited long enough.

Sam Scott Wood


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What is there to add to one of the more perfect film comedies of all time?

The Old Vic’s musical adaptation is just that – it takes almost every detail from the film and puts it on stage. I was worried that the show would struggle to escape the shadow of the film (insert your own joke here about Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction of a long winter) but I needn’t have been. It adapts, it uses the form to bring fresh theatrical dimensions. Indeed the opening visual gag is all about dimensions – “It had better be a big van” shouts Phil Connors as the stage darkens and on drives a decidedly un-big van.

My favourite scene, which perfectly suits Tim Minchin’s dark humoured lyrics, and takes full advantage of the stage setting, is a series of suicide attempts where Phil repeatedly reappears back in bed. It’s achieved through clever misdirection (although not quite as remarkable as some of the audience seemed to find it). What was truly worthy of remark was the revolving stage – wheels within wheels used brilliantly throughout the show.

It’s a story about redemption but it’s so much darker and more tragic than even the film suggests. For all the humour and singalongs, we are witnessing Phil’s purgatory, he could have been reliving this day for years, centuries, millennia before he learns his lesson, before he truly understands that every character he meets is hurting, is struggling, is fighting to get out of bed to face another day. So when Phil is woken from his nightmare after the lewder version of ‘true love’s kiss’ you feel that he and Rita might live happily ever after. They deserve it – they’ve waited long enough.

Michael Smith

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