Upstairs at The Gatehouse 14 December – 29 January. Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Cole Porter’s great musical comes to Highgate for the Christmas season. A sunny transatlantic crossing may not seem like obvious festive material, but this is sheer joyous escapism at its best.
The plot is nonsensical, full of cheesy lines, idiotic coincidences and lunatic about faces – but logic is thrown overboard in the face of such fantastic entertainment, and the laughs come thick and fast. Director John Plews has used the 1962 Broadway revival script, and the traverse staging, with the audience seeming to be watching from a perch on the ship’s rails lends a sense of complicity to the farcical events onstage.
Billy Crocker stows away on the SS American when he discovers that the love of his life is also on board, sailing to England with her fiancé to get married. With the help of nightclub singer Reno Sweeney, Public Enemy no. 13, Moonface Martin – masquerading as a priest – and his moll Bonnie, Billy dons various disguises to continue wooing his love.
Jack McCann’s Billy begins a little smugly, but as his romance with Hope (a very sweet Samantha Dorsey) develops, the charm shines through. Taryn Erickson storms the stage as Reno, with a voice and dance skills that mark her out for a great future. Jack Keane is hysterical as Sir Evelyn – a true Wodehouse fop – making you giggle with anticipation of more buffoonery just by coming on stage. David Pendlebury and Chloe Adele Edwards are true caricatures as Moonface and Bonnie – chewing the scenery and providing lots of laughs.
The show is all about the music – from the moment the fantastic band (perched at the stern of the ship, so sometimes drowning out the male singers’ middle register for audience members nearby) struck up Porter’s overture, every foot in the room was tapping. With numbers like I Get A Kick Out Of You, Anything Goes, You’re The Top, It’s De-Lovely, Blow Gabriel Blow, Friendship and so many more, all sung with skill and gusto, this production really delivers. Chris Whittaker’s choreography is witty and energetic, making the most of the traverse staging, although I would get a little nervous in the front row with some of the high kicking.
This is one of those productions that you want to go back and see again – gorgeous, frivolous and stylish entertainment that never dates performed with panache. The perfect night out for anyone going through Strictly withdrawal.