REVIEW: Pick Me Up Theatre in Sunday In The Park With George, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, until Saturday ****

Adam Price’s George and Natalie Walker’s Dot in Pick Me Up Theatre’s Sunday In The Park With George. Picture: Kevin Greenhill

FRENCH post-Impressionist painter Georges Seurat obsessed over every little last detail, making a point of everything.

The same applies to Robert Readman’s production of one of his favourite musical works, Stephen Sondheim and playwright-director James Lapine’s Sunday In The Park With George, a 1984 collaboration inspired by Seurat’s pointillist painting, Sunday Afternoon On The Island Of La Grande Jatte.

Two years in the making, that 1884-1886 work forms the wraparound artwork for Pick Me Up Theatre’s programme. Unfold it, and you find Sondheim’s lyrics to Finishing The Hat, the most significant song in capturing the artistic temperament and drive of Seurat and Sondheim alike.

Director-designer Readman has given Sunday In The Park With George a traverse setting within the black-box John Cooper Studio. At either end is a blank canvas for projections of such Seurat works as 1884’s Bathers At Asnières, an oil painting of a suburban, placid Parisian riverside on a monumental scale soon to be matched by Sunday Afternoon On The Island Of Grand Jatte.

Libby Greenhill’s Louise, left, Sanna Jeppsson’s Yvonne and Natalie Walker’s Dot in Sunday In The Park With George. Picture: Kevin Greenhill

Work-in-progress drawings by Kevin Greenhill (also the production’s photographer) depict Seurat’s sketches and character studies as Adam Price’s George (Seurat) is consumed by his craft of painting: a craft that brought him no monetary reward in a life curtailed by a fatal illness at 31, not one painting having sold before his death.

This is an exquisite directorial touch by Readman, happily and visibly restored to full throttle after “unforeseen circumstances” forced him to call off last autumn’s Halloween double bill of Young Frankenstein and The Worst Witch at the Grand Opera House.

In between the two canvas bookends runs another strip of blank canvas, a walkway or catwalk to be peopled by all the figures in Seurat’s painting coming to life in the imagination of Lapine and Sondheim (much like Johannes Vermeer’s Girl With A Pearl Earring doing likewise in Tracy Chevalier’s historical fiction novel), as if the writers had eavesdropped on conversations in the park.

Host Readman has his audience seated to either side of the stage at circular tables topped with paper “tablecloths” decorated with dots. We feel like we are in the park too.

Adam Price’s George and Natalie Walker’s Marie in the American Act Two of Pick Me Up Theatre’s Sunday In The Park With George. Picture: Kevin Greenhill

Dots are everywhere. Even Seurat’s long-suffering mistress/lover/muse is called Dot, a made-up name, it would seem, but typical of the wit at work in this fictionalised account of the months leading up to the completion of Seurat’s painting.

In a canny piece of casting, Readman has brought together real-life husband and wife Adam Price and Natalie Walker as his leads. They have performed as a duo and sang together in Pick Me Up’s Dad’s Army but this is the first time they have taken roles together in a musical, and their natural chemistry shines through their performance as the damaged central couple.

Dot wants Seurat to express his love, especially once she is pregnant, but he is drawn only to the canvas, to shining his light on Parisian life, putting her only in the spotlight in the painting.

They sing beautifully, Walker especially in the ballads, Price in expressing his artistic modus operandi, his dot-dot-dot technique being matched at one point by the staccato notes emanating from musical director Matthew Peter Clare’s keyboard.

Pick Me Up Theatre’s cast representing figures in Seurat’s pointillist painting Sunday Afternoon On The Island Of La Grande Jatte. Picture: Kevin Greenhill

As Seurat alienates the French bourgeoisie, snubs his fellow artists and neglects his lover, we meet all manner of Parisian folk in the park: an Old lady (Beryl Nairn), who turns out to be his oft-exasperated mother; his cigar-smoking agent Jules (James Willstrop), who behind his back shows no enthusiasm for his work; Yvonne (Sanna Jeppsson), who is even more snobbishly dismissive; and Craig Kirby and Rhian Wells’s befuddled American couple, Mr and Mrs.

Look out too for Mark Simmonds’s haughty, Germanic Franz; Ryan Richardson’s surly Boatman; Neil Foster’s self-righteous Soldier and Alexandra Mather (a late replacement for the indisposed Emma Louise Dickinson) and Nicola Holliday as a pair of anything but angelic Celestes. Tracey Rea’s Frieda, Michael Tattersall’s Louis, Libby Greenhill’s Louise and Logan Willstrop’s Boy cut a dash too.

After the interval, the musical takes a turn for the more personal for Sondheim in a parallel modern story where Price’s Seurat becomes George, a ‘chromolume’ American artist as underappreciated and fractious as Seurat was in his lifetime as Sondheim “explores the reverberations of Seurat’s actions over the next 100 years”.

At the time, Sondheim was increasingly dischuffed by the reaction to his musicals, just as Woody Allen had a fan say “I especially like your early, funny ones” to Allen’s character, film director Sandy Bates, in 1980’s Stardust Memories when weary of critics giving that verdict on his later works.

Nicola Holliday’s Celeste and Neil Foster’s Soldier. Picture: Kevin Greenhill

This is a somewhat overwrought piece of point-scoring by Sondheim amid all the pointillism of Seurat, but archly amusing all the same, adding to the enjoyment of a superb performance by leads and supporting players alike, responding to Readman’s relish for the musical.

Will Nicholson and Adam Coggin’s lighting and sound is top notch, and Matthew Peter Clare’s palpably energetic musical direction brings out the best in his seven-piece band.

Readman’s design skills are always a strong suit, but particularly so here, full of playfulness and artistry, such as in the cut-outs of dogs from Seurat’s painting, later matched by black-and-white full-size cut-outs of George part two in his suit, tie and pumps in the American gallery.

Do please spend Wednesday, Thursday, Friday or Saturday in the park with George. You’d be dotty to miss out.

Pick Me Up Theatre in Sunday In The Park With George, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York; 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office:

Georges Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon On The Island Of La Grande Jatte in the Pick Me Up Theatre show poster