Top Hat review at Upstairs at the Gatehouse, London – ‘a lively staging’
This time last year, Joanne Clifton raised the Strictly Come Dancing mirrorball trophy in front of a television audience of millions. Having retired from Strictly in order to pursue musical theatre, this production of the stage adaptation of the 1935 film musical Top Hat (first performed in the West End in 2012) is, in the spirit of fringe musicals, as much of an ensemble piece as a star vehicle.
Flanked by art deco architectural features, John Plews’ production takes place within a narrow strip of traverse staging, which feels misjudged. It’s too restricted for the cast to be truly footloose and fancy free in their execution of Chris Whittaker’s exuberant choreography and there’s a fear that a misfired kick or lift might have someone’s eye out.
Clifton is haughtily elegant in her array of exquisite frocks as fashion model Dale Tremont, and a capable singer in addition to her impressive dancing accomplishments. As the carefree hoofer Jerry Travers, Joshua Lay comes into his own in the exhilarating Top Hat, White Tie and Tails first act finale. There is also solid character work from Darren Benedict’s half-heartedly philandering Horace and Ellen Verenieks’s wise-cracking spendthrift Madge.
Tripping between glorious Irving Berlin numbers, the superlatively silly plot hinging on mistaken identity and mixed signals is prone to longueurs and dated jokes about funny foreigners and domineering wives. Even in a 1930s musical comedy, a throwaway line about how an unmarried woman is “fair game for any philandering male” sits uneasily.