The fabulous Mill at Sonning has revived last year’s Christmas success for another run over the festive season, It’s hard to believe that a full-scale musical like Top Hat, with so many big dance routines, could fit onto the theatre’s admittedly broad stage. But fit it does and also provides the added bonus of close-up views of the footwork which would be denied in any big West End venue.
An excellent job done in recreating the glamour of Hollywood’s golden age
A lavish Art-Deco design in pastel green, pink, cream and gold spreads across the stage and to both sides of it. This work of art by Set Designer Jason Denvir identifies the period and creates the mood for this step back in time. It’s simple but clever. The drop-down bed makes for scene changes that are rapid and smooth and the attention to detail on such things as the elevator door with the luminous floor indicator is a delight. Lighting Designer Nic Farman really goes to town with the colours that flood the stage for some of the big numbers and his polka-dot effect is particularly impressive. Having a character in the show who is a dress designer gives added opportunities to create stunningly beautiful costumes that further establish that we are back in the 1930s. Costume Designer Natalie Titchener has blended a palette and styles to sumptuous effect.
The love story of Top Hat revolves around a simple case of mistaken identity which in the real world would have been resolved quickly and easily. Here it is somewhat tediously drawn out, but it does provide material for a spectacular musical. Jonny Labey dominates the show. His silky-smooth voice sounds very much of the Hollywood period and he gives a sensational display of dance routines of which the tap numbers inevitably stand out. His Jerry Travers is charming, endearing and full of confidence combined with a hint of cheekiness that will offend no one once he gives that seductive smile. He falls madly in love with Dale Tremont who thinks Jerry is actually another character, Horace Hardwick (Paul Kemble), a much older married man. Billie-Kay has the challenge of making Tremont’s confusion seem plausible, which she does with competence. Less appealing is her aura of detachment and seeming lack of chemistry with Labey and a few tuning issues. She looks spectacular, however, as she dances her way through a series of beautifully designed costumes.
Kemble forms the husband and wife duo with Julia J Nagl. He is long-suffering and Madge is domineeringly cynical about the relationship. Between them they generate some of the show’s comic highlights, challenged only by Brendan Cull as Bates, the dutiful manservant forever changing costumes and voices to provide disguises to cover his investigatory activities. Also on the eccentric end of the scale is Andy Rees, doing one of those stereotypical takes on the proud dress designer Beddini, with wavering Italian accents and over-the-top actions; but it gets laughs.
The ensemble features Hannah Amin, Joe Boyle, George Deller, Nathan Elwick, Gabriela Gregorian, Leah Harris, Reece Kerridge and Greta McKinnon. Their contribution to the success of this show is enormous. They accomplish slick scene changes, of which there are many, back and forth, but above all provide a richly balanced chorus of voices and become a finely honed troupe of dancers under the brilliantly devised choreography of Ashley Nottingham. Credit also to Musical Director and Arranger Francis Goodhand for sustaining the pace of the show and creating a big-band sound from two floors above the stage.
Director Jonathan O’Boyle work is an excellent job done in recreating the glamour of Hollywood’s golden age, the magic of Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers and the memorable songs of Irving Berlin.