THEATRE REVIEW: High Society, Old Vic

runs until 22 August

What a swellegant, elegant part this is… This glorious vintage musical is a gorgeous summer hit

Marking Kevin Spacey’s final production as Artistic Director at the Old Vic, this revival of Cole Porter’s gloriously silly and frothy musical takes a little while to get going, but when it gets in full force it is a delight to behold.

cw-6849-mediumKate Fleetwood stars as a mature but pretentious and flighty Tracey Lord, joined by the charming Rupert Young as her ex-husband C K Dexter Haven, and the wonderful Jamie Parker as new love interest Mike Connor, all while she is planning her wedding to the rather drippy George Kitteridge (Richard Grieve). Meanwhile her parents are estranged, Uncle Willie (Jeff Rawle) is causing chaos, and to top it all there are journalists trying to get the scoop on all the goings-on. Add more than a dash of alcohol at the “swellegant, elegant” pre-wedding party, and it’s a recipe for chaos.

This production does take a while to get into its stride; the first few scenes are sleek but a little flat as we are introduced to the cast in a rather contrived way. However, when the story gets madder, the performances are ratcheted up and the energy starts to fizz and bubble. Stand-out numbers such as ‘Let’s Misbehave’ and ‘Well Did You Evah!’ add bagfuls of sparkle into the performance and, while the leads do a sterling job, there is also great support from the ensemble including Omari Douglas, whose tap-dancing on the piano is fabulous.

1-High-Society-Old-Vic

As Tracey, Fleetwood’s performance grows into its own, with absolute hilarity in her antics with sister Dinak (a brilliantly precocious Ellie Bamber) to fool the journalists, and her inebriation at the party. Yet she also shows great nuance and sensitivity as she contemplates the loss of Dexter and the prospect of a lonely life ahead. There are some nicely-tuned moments when she hints at the cracks beneath the surface with a subtle facial expression, where the smile freezes and the eyes betray uncertainty. Her performance of ‘True Love’ is touching, and I was thoroughly annoyed that is is matted by a cringeworthy and rather tacky addition of a model yacht ‘sailing’ (i.e. being carried) around the back row of the auditorium. The exquisite atmosphere established by the set and lighting, and the rich tones of the vocals, are more than enough without this rather odd decision.

Fleetwood is well supported by Young, who won me over instantly with his ability to convey both boyish charm and depth of feeling. As Mike Connor, the always brilliant Jamie Parker is on fantastic form, once again showing his versatile performance skills as he fills the role with exuberance and comedy, acting as a great foil for the over-the-top snobbishness of the Lord family.

The set is ingenious, with furniture and and no less than two pianos rising out of the apparently seamlessly flat floor. However, I did take issue with the over-exposure of Joe Stilgoe. While there’s no doubting he is a fantastic pianist and entertainer, his elongated appearances and working the crowd felt like an exercise in self-promotion rather than adding anything to the show artistically speaking.

With stunning costumes, a wonderful sense of the ridiculous and a couple of spectacular ensemble numbers in the stretched-out party scene, it’s very easy to overlook any niggles in this production and go home smiling, full of the glittering joy of this glorious vintage-esque production.

Click here for tickets and more information

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