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Top Hat review at Kilworth House Theatre – ‘sheer theatrical pleasure’

Dan Burton and company in Top Hat at Kilworth House Theatre. Photo: Jems Photography Dan Burton and company in Top Hat at Kilworth House Theatre. Photo: Jems Photography
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The country house musical theatre wonder that is Kilworth House Theatre comes up trumps again with a tip-top (and tap-heavy) revival of the Olivier award-winning stage version of the 1935 film Top Hat that actually betters the original 2012 West End production in many key respects.

For one thing, it has a more versatile and charming star in Dan Burton, who makes the leap (in every sense) from featured character dancer, as the Olivier-nominated Tulsa in the last London revival of Gypsy, to lead player as Jerry Travers, plausibly a Broadway star leading a transfer of a show to the West End. There he falls for Lauren Stroud’s enchanting Dale Tremont, who has the hotel room below his, and whose sleep he disturbs with incessant tap dancing. Burton not only has an effortless, square-jawed matinee idol charm, he also sings the score as gorgeously as he dances it.

Burdened by a rather cumbersome book adaptation by Matthew White and Howard Jacques, director/choreographer Stephen Mear here makes light, effervescent work of the show with a handsome design by Morgan Large that doesn’t require unnecessary scene changes. Instead, the show seamlessly shifts between different locations in New York, London and Venice with the simple but evocative device of changing the painted backdrops behind three beautiful art deco-inspired arches.

Mear keeps the cast gliding in dance as if on air. The big dance numbers are fantastically well-drilled spectacles of coordinated movement that’s every bit as impressive as 42nd Street in the West End, and musical director Michael England’s generous 11-piece band gives brassy weight to a glorious catalogue of well-known and rarer Irving Berlin songs.

There’s also really terrific comic value from Charles Brunton, as the English producer of the show, and Nia Jerman and Ashley Knight as the producer’s wife and put-upon butler.

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I'll tip my hat to Top Hat for sheer theatrical pleasure