Before the play proper, a quintet of Lieder Singers vocalises a bewitching Night Waltz, a serenade that hints at all the possibilities and deceptions of the evening ahead in a drama that will be played out in three-quarter time. As the quintet waltzes among the play's protagonists in a kaleidoscope of changing combinations, old partnerships are broken and resumed. The aged Madame Armfeldt, who knows about these things, explains to her granddaughter Fredrika the three smiles of a summer night: the first smile is for the young, like Fredrika, who know nothing; the second for fools, like Fredrika's mother, who know too little; the third for the old - Madame Armfeldt herself - who know too much.
We are in Sweden at the turn of the century and at the house of Fredrik Egerman a permanent Nordic frost of sexual frustration seems to have settled. Passion flares, they say, when the time is right, but when is that time? After eleven months of non-consummated marriage to his teenage bride, Fredrik is impatient: he wants her Now. Downstairs, Henrik, the issue of his first marriage, is making fumbling advances to Petra the maid and being repulsed, as always, with the promise of Later. Upstairs again, Fredrik's young wife Anne, no older than her stepson, promises that she will be her husband's ... Soon.
Far away, in a swirl of activity, Desirée Armfeldt is leading The Glamorous Life - dashing off a note to her daughter and mother before being whisked from one grim lodging to another draughty dressing-room to a meeting of the Hälsingborg Arts Council Amateur Theatre Group. In that evening's entertainment, Desirée plays a woman who can and does have any man she wants. In the Egerman party at the theatre, Anne swears that Desirée is directing her performance at Fredrik alone. Back home, she still cannot love him yet is riven by jealousy at the thought that he might hanker after Desirée. Their affair ended years ago, but the memories still taunt him: Remember? He leaves the house and makes his way to Desirée's lodgings. There is so much to talk about: You Must Meet My Wife, he tells her. She feels little inclination to, but, when Fredrik eventually raises the matter of Anne's indestructible virginity, Desirée is appalled and immediately invites her old flame into the bedroom to end his isolation. Whatever happened, wonders Madame Armfeldt, to Liaisons of style, sophistication and their own courtly code? She can only regret the modern world's descent into the blunt, squalid satisfaction of desire.
But, even as they complete their coupling, Fredrik and Desirée are surprised by a visitor, the actress9 current amour, Count Carl-Magus Malcolm. Fredrik is more dishevelled than a quiet drink with an old friend would seem to require. But Carl-Magnus, speaking In Praise of Women, is unperturbed; women practise fidelity, he practises fidelity. too - to Desirée ... and his wife Charlotte. Therefore, as everyone is so faithful, nothing can have happened.
The following day. though, Charlotte sets off to visit Anne Egerman and, faced with the child bride's foolish naivet6, her blithe worldliness cracks. Desirée has ensnared both their husbands. Love, she tells Anne, takes its toll: Every Day a Little Death. Desirée, however, feels otherwise. She has a short break in her hectic schedule and, ensconced at her mother's estate, decides to invite a few house guests: Carl-Magnus and Charlotte, Henrik, Anne and Fredrik. Of course, Fredrik's new wife is an obstacle, but who knows what A Weekend in the Country may bring?
A country weekend is about to begin. Tantalisingly, The Sun Won't Set, though no-one seems inclined to a quiet night's sleep. Charlotte tells Anne that she will make love to Fredrik and thereby tempt Carl-Magnus back. Young Henrik confides to Fredrika that he is in love with Anne, his stepmother. On the terrace, Carl-Magnus and Fredrik are sunk in introspective gloom: if only Desirée had become fat, if only she wasn't so enduringly appealing, It Would Have Been Wonderful. The Norse twilight tingles and the lieder quintet sings of Perpetual Anticipation. Only Petra is enjoying her weekend away, with a straightforward bout of al fresco passion with Madame Armfeldt's butler Frid.
As the night advances, a grim weariness descends: in Desirée's bedroom, Fredrik wonders why he's wasting his time trying to recapture his lost youth with a teenage bride; Desirée wonders why she's sleeping with a dunderhead dragoon to relieve the monotony of third-rate tours. Send in the Clowns?. Don't bother - they're here. Outside, under the Northern stars, Anne finds her stepson trying to hang himself. They kiss and, on the shores of the lake, both discover love. As they do, their maid straightens her own skirts, decides that one day she'll marry The Miller's Song but in the meanwhile . . . The night draws to a close with a duel between Carl-Magnus and Fredrik - and a wounded Fredrik in Desirée's arms.
The summer night has smiled on the young, the fools and, finally, the old: Madame Armfeldt dies, and the Night Waltz plays once more.
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Glynnis Johns (Desirée)
Len Cariou (Fredrik)
Victoria Mallory (wife Anne)
Mark Lambert (son Henrik)
Hermione Gingold (Madame Armfeldt)
Laurence Guittard (Count Carl-Magnus)
Patricia Elliot (his wife Charlotte)
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