Monday, 17 December 2018

REVIEW: Nice Work If You Can Get It at the Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Rapidly approaching their 21st anniversary at “Upstairs at the Gatehouse”, there is no denying that Katie and John Plews have created something simply unique and welcoming at this brilliant North London fringe theatre venue. Their latest production with Ovation Theatres Limited sees them debut the UK premiere production of the hit Broadway show “Nice Work If You Can Get It”. 

Headed by Alistair So and Jessica-Elizabeth Nelson, this stellar cast have delve head first into creating an extremely charming and delightful adaptation for this debut. Set in the 1920s, Nice Work If You Can Get It follows dapper playboy Jimmy Winter (Alistair So), a wealthy gentleman who meets rough and ready female bootlegger Billie Bendix (Jessica-Elizabeth Nelson) on the weekend of his wedding. Jimmy, who has previously been married three times before, is preparing to marry Eileen Evergreen (Charlotte Scally), “the world’s greatest interpreter of modern dance”. Assuming Jimmy and Eileen will be out of town, Billie and her gang of bootleggers hide cases of alcohol in the basement of Jimmy’s Long Island mansion. But when Jimmy, his wife in waiting and her protesting family show up at the door for the wedding, Billie and her fellow bootleggers are forced to hide out as servants, causing a whole load of tomfoolery and nonsense. 

From the get go there is an absolute sense of control apparent on stage, instantaneously allowing the audience to simply sit back and immerse themselves within the timeless world being presented to them. Although encompassed within a restrictive intimate space, both director John Plews and choreographer Grant Murphy have intertwined their talents to present an intelligent use of the space available. Murphy, who has previously choreographed three productions for Ovation, showcases a wonderful display of classic dance genres worthy of any Strictly Come Dancing fan, allowing each member of the cast to shine within elaborate tap numbers and pleasant duets. At times during full ensemble numbers the stage and movement did feel quite restricted and compromised due to the space available, perhaps this could have been adapted to feature less bodies or a different approach to the space. None the less, each routine was an absolute celebration and endearing nod to the era.

Having recently started as the title role in Thoroughly Modern Millie, Jessica-Elizabeth Nelson was an absolute stand out with her beautifully controlled vocals, vulnerability and comedic timing. Which when combined with the velvet tones and ease of Alistair So, coming straight off his summer run as Cover Lun in The King and I (London Palladium) creates nothing short of a perfectly matched duo. However, the main comedy comes thick and fast through David Pendlebury (Cookie McGee). There is no question why he has returned time and time again to The Gatehouse, delivering each one liner and zinger with ease. Credit must also be given to fresh graduates Abigail Earnshaw (Jeannie Muldoon), Kirsten Mackie (Rosie/Ensemble) and Grace McInerny (Dottie/Millicent/Ensemble) each of whom provide a wonderful energy on stage throughout. And they weren’t alone! With Fraser Fraser (Duke Mahoney), Adam Crossley (Elliott/Ensemble/Dance Captain) and Harry Cooper-Millar (Chief Berry) also contributing brilliantly throughout. 

This is a thoroughly enjoyable festive treat and well worthy of a four star rating. With the entire cast, crew and creatives working cohesively, Ovation have managed to create a captivating production for the debut of Nice Work If You Can Get It here in London’s West End. I would be interested to see what the creative team at Ovation would be able to do with this production with a larger space, cast and budget. 

Review by Adam Tipping

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Third Row, Centre | Price of Ticket: Tickets starting at £16
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