Review: TOP HAT, The Mill At Sonning

Irvin Berlin's iconic music and lyrics create a charming and playful show

By: Oct. 23, 2021
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MATILDA THE MUSICAL Announces West End Extension; See New Footage From the Show!Made famous by the 1935 film featuring the legendary Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Top Hat is a nostalgic and light-hearted piece of escapism now playing at The Mill at Sonning.

The story follows Jerry Travers, a Broadway star in his prime, who travels to England and falls for the society beauty Dale Tremont. Dale is not initially taken with him, but with a little charm, Jerry gets his girl. However, it is less than plain sailing after Dale mistakes him for Jerry's own manager Horace Hardwick, who is married to her friend, and subsequent mayhem ensues.

The storyline pushes the mistaken identity thread to the limit; all the confusion could be resolved within a sentence, but this production does not take itself seriously. Occasionally the show's themes and comedy feel a little dated, particularly the jokes about female gold-diggers but there are also moments of real wit. The combination of Irvine Berlin's beautiful music, catchy lyrics and the energy of the cast make this production flow regardless of any difficulties with the plot.

Jack Butterworth, who was so eye-catching in the 2019 Menier's The Boy Friend, is graceful and fleet of foot as Jerry, with enough charisma to carry the part well. He is very likeable, with a smooth amiability.

Billie Kay makes an enchanting and smart Dale; a playful dancer, she occasionally loses some form in her arms. Their chemistry has a warmth, rather than a heat, but this is appropriate for the 30s setting. Their duet of "It's A Lovely Day To Be Caught In The Rain" is charming.

They are supported by an enthusiastic ensemble. Delme Thomas has a riot with the flamboyant Italian costume designer Alberto Beddini and Brendan Cull is comically staid as valet Bates.

Paul Kemble is very endearing as Horace Hardwick and Tiffany Graves is a stand-out as the hilariously sardonic Madge Harwick.

The show looks lovely; director Jonathon O'Boyle maintains great pace in the show, frequently using the theatre staircases for entrances and exits. This feels intimate, but can be a little distracting if you are sat next to the steps. The set changes are deftly managed by the cast, but occasionally the small stage feels too crowded.

Jason Denvir's set is simple but effective, using the sharp lines and sensual curves of the Art Deco period. Nic Farman's lighting is colourful and reflects Natalie Titchener's costume design, which is detailed and often suitably flamboyant.

Ashley Nottingham's choreography echoes some of the allure of the Astaire/Rogers pairing, with some entertaining tap routines. The spectacle is somewhat restricted by the size of the stage, but the Act I finale of "Top Hat, White Tie & Tails" is particularly impressive and the famous "Cheek To Cheek" is nuanced and delicate.

The combination of dinner and a show in the beautiful Grade II listed building will make this a perfect festive outing for many in the coming months. The whole production has its restrictions, but is light and whimsical, with a genuine warmth that is frothy and frivolous fun.

Top Hat is at The Mill At Sonning until 8 January 2022

Photo Credit: Andreas Lambis


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