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Ovation Presents

 

High Society

Photo by Lucy Young

Music & lyrics by Cole Porter


 
Book by Arthur Kopit


 
Additional lyrics by Susan Birkenhead

 

Directed by John Plews

 

Upstairs at the Gatehouse

 

18 Dec 09 -   31 Jan 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A review by James Fritz for EXTRA! EXTRA!

There is an engaging diversion from the usual Christmas Panto fare playing at the Gatehouse, where Cole Porter’s ‘High Society ‘has been granted a high-spirited revival. Based on Philip Barry’s 1939 play ‘The Philadelphia Story’, the 1956 musical film adaptation transported the action to Rhode Island and showcased the talents of Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly. Focusing on the romantic entanglements of the socialite Tracy Lord the night before her wedding, the show boasts such classic Porter numbers as ‘Well, Did You Evah!’ and ‘Let’s Misbehave’.

The night gets off to a stuttering start, with the cast lacking pace and timing as they struggle to blend humour with what seems like an interminable amount of exposition. We find great songs like ‘High Society’ and ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?’ are thrown away as the show has difficulty hitting its stride. Things improve in the second half, however, and from the moment the champagne starts to flow during ‘Let’s Misbehave’ the show becomes far more entertaining. By the climax both company and audience alike seem to be wholly enjoying themselves.

Given that Barry’s story has previously been shifted from Philadelphia to Rhode Island and then to Long Island (for the 1998 Broadway production) there is plenty of precedent for director John Plews’ decision to once again relocate Tracy and co. This time, in a bold if risky move, we find ourselves across the pond in Hampshire, England. While it presents a somewhat intriguing – and occasionally amusing - contrast to see the horsey set tackling Cole Porter (that most American of songwriters) it is a ploy that never quite manages to sit well with the material. Much of the cast have done away with the accents but in doing so have robbed the dialogue of its charisma, and similarly such classic American songs often sound unnatural when strong armed into British pronunciation.

There are exceptions: Kirby Hughes’ Rah-tastic Tracy Lord is a delightful creation, at once an awful and yet strangely adorable human being, and she exploits her exaggerated Englishness for maximum comic potential, whilst Peter Kenworthy’s Dexter is an affable – if somewhat smug – leading man.

Jessica Bastick-Vines should also be commended for succeeding in the difficult task of making Tracy’s prepubescent sister not only un-irritating but actually rather funny, whilst Brendan Cull and Hayley Emma Otway both give assured and likeable performances as the reporters who find themselves entwined in the Lords’ ridiculous farce.

On the whole therefore, despite this being a flawed and flimsy production of a flawed and flimsy musical, it is thanks to an entertaining and likeable cast and the magic of Porter’s music that I defy anyone to leave without a smile on their face.

 

Photo by Lucy Young

 

Box Office: 020 8340 3488

www.upstairsatthegatehouse.com

Tuesdays to Fridays and Sundays
 £12 and £10 concs. Saturday: £15 and £12 concs
    Corner of North Road and Hampstead Lane
 Highgate Village
 London N6

 

 

 

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