Review: TOP HAT, The Mill at Sonning

A ceaseless parade of glorious tap numbers

By: Nov. 28, 2022
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Review: TOP HAT, The Mill at Sonning

Review: TOP HAT, The Mill at Sonning West of London, the Mill at Sonning is hugged on either side by the Thames and neighbours George Clooney's 17th century mansion. The venue, which provides all its audience members with a sumptuous buffet dinner before the evening's entertainment, is currently hosting a toe-tapping revival of Top Hat, their 2021 Christmas show which has returned for more ovations.

The Mill delivers a warm experience few other theatres can aspire to, simply by providing a pre-show dining experience it invites two hundred strangers to feel like family. After this, almost everything is coated in such a layer of charm that even the cast's hurried entrances and exits through the aisles to the doors of the auditorium prove endearing.

Top Hat, though based on the 1935 Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers vehicle, was adapted for the stage only a decade ago and as such marries a score of Irving Berlin classics to an adapted script from Matthew White and Howard Jacques, packed with contemporary wit. A ceaseless parade of glorious tap numbers is interspersed with a lightweight plot hinging on early mistaken identity. Though Jerry Travers and Dale Tremont might fall more easily in love were they to simply share an introductory conversation, you long for them to just keep dancing instead.

Billie Kay once again dons the glamorous gowns of Dale Tremont while Jonny Labey is a newcomer as her leading man, Jerry. Kay enchants with a rich vocal performance though her indifferent characterisation lacks warmth, while Labey is the reverse, a less sure-footed singer whose charisma leaves nothing to be desired. The two, of course, dance rapturously.

Their sincerity is complimented by a supporting cast of comic caricatures in which Brendan Cull and Andy Rees are chiefly brilliant as a diligent valet turned spy and passionate Italian dressmaker, respectively. Julia J Nagle earns plenty of laughs too as the perennially practical Madge. Making a sizeable impression is Reece Kerridge, who delivers a bouquet of scene-stealing ensemble turns, most notably as a highly officious florist. Though the evening's buffet dining offered beef, chicken, and fish, onstage Kerridge is serving nothing but ham.

Director Jonathan O'Boyle pays evident respect to the choreography in this production, the elegant and whimsical work of Ashley Nottingham. O'Boyle passes up the chance for farce in favour of a creeping romance while busying the mise-en-scène with a tireless ensemble. Staged largely between hotels in London and Venice, it seems impossible for the show to look anything less than utterly stylish on Jason Denvir's set, a vibrant art-deco design in emerald, gold, and cream. Costuming by Natalie Titchener helps uplift the glamorous locale though Kay's Dale Tremont spends much of act two burdened by a puzzling dress with unflattering seams and too few feathers to hide its hem.

Might a stronger production be born of this material? Scarcely. The aim here is to thinly justify two acts of old Hollywood choreography with as much intervening laughter as possible, two fronts on which this revival certainly succeeds. Just as a feast of a dinner begets a sweet but insubstantial dessert, Sonning's evening of activity feels best suited to a musical just like this: a toe-tapping palate cleanser that leaves a delicious taste.

Top Hat is at The Mill at Sonning until 30 December

Photo Credit: Andreas Lambis