25th November 2017
Devonport Playhouse, Plymouth
Type of Production
Author: Gareth Davies
Plymouth Theatre Company came up trumps with a tip-top and tap-tastic South West premier of the Olivier award-winning stage version of the 1935 film Top Hat that impressed in many key respects.
Top Hat is a glittering and feel-good romantic musical comedy that celebrates 1930s song, style and romance and is packed full of Irving Berlin’s greatest hits including; ‘Cheek to Cheek’, ‘Top Hat’, ‘White Tie & Tails’, ‘Let’s Face the Music & Dance’ and ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz’. The evening could be summed up as "great songs, daft book". One was often waiting patiently for the next Irving Berlin number or elegant dance routine to come along which happily, they did with frequency.
Director and choreographer Angela Collins kept the action moving with pace and much of the choreography was fun and inventive. Andy Martin’s excellent set had an authentic look to it, with the show seamlessly shifting between different locations in New York, London and Venice with a simple but evocative design based on beautiful art deco-inspired concepts. The manner in which the stage seemed to be so expansive was miraculous in this challenging space.
New company musical director, Gary Hawkins, expertly conducted an excellent band, which was dynamically varied and satisfyingly together throughout.
In the leading role of Jerry Travers, we enjoyed the performance, versatility and charm of Sam Wilson, who continues to make the leap (in every sense) from featured performer to leading man. Plausibly a Broadway star leading a transfer of a show to the West End. There he fell for Jessica Emmett’s beautiful and accomplished Dale Tremont. The two of them presented an effortless, stylish performance, both singing the score as gorgeously as they danced it.
There was terrific comic value from David Green as Horace Hardwick, the English producer of the show and Julie Butcher as his perplexed wife, Madge Hardwick. Drew Statton supported convincingly as their ever-patient and slapstick butler, Bates, along with the fabulously funny Shah Rahman as explosive Latin dressmaker Alberto Beddini, who comes out with language-mangling phrases like "Why not face the musicians now?” It is great to see Shah on stage again – I still remember his Max Bialystock with a smile – and ‘Latins Know How’ was a highlight for me!
The ensemble cast all captured the style and tone of the era with some lovely cameo performances featuring familiar and new faces to Plymouth Theatre Company audiences. It was also great to see guests from the Youth Company involved.
Congratulations to Vi Moss, Elaine Robinson and the wardrobe team for an elegant and authentic range of costumes, a brand new set supplied by Isle of Wight Costumes. Lighting and sound were designed with a deft touch – never too much for this style of show – and all balanced expertly.
Angela Collins clearly relished directing and choreographing this old-fashioned musical comedy. The big dance numbers were well-drilled spectacles of coordinated movement that were every bit as impressive as those in the more familiar 42nd Street, for which this company are famous.
Well done to the cast, crew and production team – PTC invariably set the bar high and this classic show was no different. I will look forward to the very different ‘Full Monty’ next May!