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A review by Carmen Nasr for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

Peter Huntley Productions and Chantelle Staynings in association with Jermyn Street Theatre present

 

The Kissing Dance

 

Gina Beck

Photo by Robert Workmen

 

Music by Howard Goodall & Lyrics and book by Charles Hart

Directed by Lotte Wakeham

 

Jermyn Street Theatre

 

22 March – 23 April 2011


 

Sitting firm among the West End giants, Jermyn Street Theatre with its tiny seventy seat studio and its championing of new writing and forgotten classics, brings some much needed intimacy and originality to the theatrical iridescence of Piccadilly. In the midst of the pop, rock and Americana influenced harmonies of its neighbouring musical blockbusters, The Kissing Dance sings to the tune of a quintessentially British blend of choral, pastoral and folk nuances, all set to the farcical misadventures of the Edwardian upper classes.

Originally composed by Howard Goodall for the National Youth Musical Theatre back in 1998, The Kissing Dance is an adaptation of Oliver Goldsmith’s 18th century comedy She Stoops to Conquer. Staying faithful to its source material, the play follows the follies of love and mistaken identity that take place at the stately hall of Nonesuch on the mischievous night of All Fools Eve. Two London gentlemen on their way to Nonesuch to meet their respective suitors, fall prey to a malicious prank that leads them to believe that the manor house at which they arrive is not Nonesuch at all, but a peculiar country inn. Class politics, stolen family heirlooms and elaborate romantic plotting make for a typically English comedy of errors.

Radiating a certain naturalness unusual to musicals, The Kissing Dance is perfectly suited to the intimacy afforded by its venue. Howard Goodall’s score steers away from the more episodic structure of American musicals, where as director Lotte Wakeham explains ‘the mood of a song stays the same’ until its conclusion. Rather, Goodall’s composition absorbs the structure of the story, changing its tone mid-song in line with the dramatic action. Goodall’s score and Charles Hart’s intelligently witty lyrics and book feel naturally integrated, lending the production a touch of naturalism among its romantic and farcical overtones. Combined with the relocation of the play from its original 18th century setting to the less aesthetically stuffy Edwardian era, with its gently blossoming turn of the century modernity (elegantly executed by set designer Samal Blak), the production has a uniquely elegant and natural ease about it.

Wakeham’s decision to use a cast of mainly actor-musicians is one of the productions strongest elements. Performers deliver flawless musical performances, finding time in between singing, dancing or delivering dialogue to disappear backstage only to reappear seconds later with a violin, clarinet, saxophone or accordion. Harriet Oughton gives a wonderful and steady performance behind the piano, while during her occasional absences characters stroll to the instrument with an air of nonchalance only to sit down and play with a natural ease. The musical score is delivered through an elaborate and intricate choreography of performers and their musical instruments, which apart from being a treat to watch, gives the production a celebratory and joyful kick.

Fresh from a two year stint as the female lead in the West End’s The Phantom of the Opera, Gina Beck plays shrewd Kate Hardcastle with such a delightful sincerity, that it comes as no surprise that she performed the role at fifteen in the original NYMT production. Supported by a cast of equal talent and experience, it is a shame not to be able to mention them all by name. As for the few I will mention, Beverley Klein as the corrupt and ridiculously silly Mrs. Dorothy Hardcastle embodies the humour and spirit of the show perfectly. Jack Shalloo is effortlessly charming as the wayward and hare-brained country rouge, Tony Bumpkin, while Ian Virgo’s paradoxically lecherous and painfully reserved Charles Marlow is cleverly and humorously balanced.

The Kissing Dance certainly contributes to the ‘re-emergence of a distinct identity for British musical theatre’ as the programme claims, with Goodall’s distinctive blending of inherited British musical traditions and the enduring humour of British farcical satire providing the foundations for a delightfully light-hearted production, brimming with quality and talent. For those who do not care so much for musicals, The Kissing Dance is unlikely to generate any converts and did at times feel a little predictable, however for fans of the genre it is an extremely well-crafted production offering a great deal more quality over the abundance of quantity provided by its glitzy neighbours.

 
Gina Beck, Ian Virgo, Beverley Klein
Photo by Robert Workmen

 

Box Office: 020 7287 2875
www.jermynstreettheatre.co.uk
Jermyn Street Theatre
16B Jermyn Street, London, SW1Y 6ST
7:30pm Tue – Sat & 3:30pm Sun
£18.50/£15 Concessions
 
 

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