Saturday, 16 December 2017

REVIEW: Top Hat at Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Top Hat hit the screens in 1935 with legend Fred Astaire in the lead role with Ginger Rogers playing his love interest, Dale Tremont. The film was the 4th most popular film at the British Box office in its year of release and it hit the West End stage in a new version starring Tom Chambers and Summer Strallen in the leading roles after a UK tour. It ran through 2012 and closed the following year before hitting the road again in another tour of the UK. 

The show is being revived Upstairs at the Gatehouse in a new version directed by John Plus and choreographed by Chris Whittaker with Strictly Come Dancing star Joanne Cliffton and West End performer Joshua Lay taking on the leading roles.

Firstly, the organisation skills of the theatre need to be reassessed. Being asked to constantly move and being told where we should sit isn't really necessary, if its a problem then they should be printing seat numbers.

The show itself has its flaws; in the world we live in today the story is old fashioned and doesn’t contain the level of slapstick comedy to pull of the ridiculousness of the situations. There is a lot of potential but the relevance to our society today is next to none. 

Joshua Lay is an absolute star, his stage presence is fabulous and engaging while his talents are captivating and flawless. His portrayal of Jerry Travers is fresh, cheeky and charming. A true leading man. 

Joanne Cliffton is very well suited for Dale Tremont, although her singing ability may not match up to that of Joshua Lay, she astounds the audience with her beautiful dancing ability. 

Ellen Verenieks as Madge is perfect casting, she plays the part fantastically and is one of the stand out performances of the night. The dry humour was pulled off excellently and every time she entered it was like taking a breath of fresh air. 

Darren Benedict as Horance took some time to warm to, his interpretation may have been a little too flamboyant for the character in my opinion but by the end we were all rooting for him. 

Whilst the ensembles acting ability left much to be desired, their numbers were the highlights of the show and with Chris Whittakers choreography it is a wonderful marriage. 

Whittakers work on this show is fantastic, the dance numbers match those of
the West End and it wouldn’t look out of place in a full scale production. I look forward to seeing more of his work in the future. 

This production, as a whole, just seemed a little too ambitious. With limited space, the taking on and off of set pieces got a little tiring and seemed far to complicated. I was genuinely frightened someone on the front row would get a kick in the face in the dance numbers. With a space like this I feel like simplicity is the key which is a shame because Emily Bestows set design was innovative at its base. However, Sam Waddington’s lighting design is a lesson in how to light a space of its kind, a delightfully lite production. 

This show is pleasant viewing but it has its flaws, nothing groundbreaking but a pleasant night of theatre. Go just to witness the performance of Joshua Lay. 

Review by Mark Swale 

Rating: ★★★

Photo credit: Darren Bell
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