Upstairs at the Gatehouse, London – until 28 January 2018
Guest reviewer: Becca Cromwell
Based on the 1935 RKO Musical, Top Hat, starring Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire and featuring music from Irving Berlin, this stage adaptation of the beloved musical brings sparkle to a tiny but beautiful fringe theatre in Highgate, London. Upstairs at the Gatehouse has built a reputation of being one of the leading fringe theatres in London, and you can see why.
The stage, or lack of it, really made this production work. You were inches away from the characters from beginning to end, which made it feel as if you were truly there with them. The show opens with Puttin’ on the Ritz and within seconds, the entire room was mesmerised. With direction from John Plews and choreography from Chris Whittaker, this adaptation of the musical was bound to be fantastic.
The set was very cleverly designed and hidden away under a raised platform at one end of the stage. With just the addition of a table or two, we were transported from London to Venice and from room to room. As the audience were seated on both sides of the stage, I was unsure as to how it would quite work, but it did. The cast very cleverly managed to play to both sides of the room at once, which takes some skill.
Jerry is a star, and he knows it. When he travels to London to open in a show in the West End, he meets Dale Tremont a model and fashion superstar, played by Strictly Come Dancing‘s Joanne Clifton (Flashdance, Thoroughly Modern Millie onstage). The two fall in love through a frustratingly good plot, in which mistaken identity, a camp Italian fashion designer, a butler turned spy and a well-known theatre producer play a big part.
Clifton wowed as Dale, tap dancing her way into the audience’s hearts. Joanne, of Strictly Come Dancing fame, put her well-known dance skills to good use and her acting and singing abilities astonished the audience, myself included. Having recently toured the UK with Flashdance, she moved quickly onto Top Hat over the Christmas period, and returns to Flashdance soon.
Joshua Lay starred as the ever-so-charming Broadway star Jerry Travers, and gave an impressive performance. His dancing was sublime, giving Fred Astaire a run for his money. Lay held his own amongst the superbly talented cast, which is to be admired.
Darren Benedict played Horace Hardwick, a popular theatre producer who enlists Jerry for his latest show. Darren provided comedic relief throughout, which was thoroughly entertaining.
Samuel Haughton played Bates, Horace’s butler. Haughton’s comedic timing was perfect and helped move the show along nicely, making us chuckle in between the more serious scenes.
Fashion designer Alberto was played by Australian born Matthew James Willis and much to the audience’s delight, gave a hilarious performance, bad jokes included.
Ellen Verenieks as the sharp-witted Madge gave a vocally impressive performance. Although only properly introduced to Madge in act 2, Ellen ensured that the character was memorable through her fantastic performance.
The ensemble consisted of Rhys Ashcroft, Marcus J Foreman, Leanne Groutage, Grant Jackson, Olivia Sinclair and Grace Usher. All of the ensemble gave outstanding performances, with each of them taking on three or four different roles.
Top Hat runs at Upstairs at the Gatehouse until Jan 28th. If you can get a ticket, I urge you to go.
photo credit: Darren Bell