REVIEW: Top Hat – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

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Adapted from the 1935 RKO musical comedy starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, writer Howard Jaques and director Matthew White transport us back to the golden age of Hollywood and a glamorous, if more simple time: an era when plot lines were lighter than air and fluffier than a cumulus cloud. Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 11.57.47 Broadway star Jerry Travers has arrived in London to star in a new show; there he meets the glamorous and aloof Dale Tremont whom he sets out to win over. However, complications arise when she mistakes him for the husband of a friend. Throw in glamorous locations, comedy characters, fabulous costumes and jaw-dropping dance routines and you’ve got the multiple Olivier Award-winning Top Hat. Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 12.02.07 Played out upon a stunning design by Hildegard Bechtler, the set pieces include a rain-soaked bandstand, a horse-drawn carriage ride, a plane landing over Venice and stunning Art Deco hotels to highlight just a few. The costumes too are a treat for the eyes, beautifully designed with hints of Schiaparelli and Fortuny. But what makes the whole production sing with life is the fact that this is all realised in glorious technicolor bringing the much-loved tale to life in a way the old black and white movie never could. Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 11.58.04 As mentioned before the storyline is somewhat simplistic and some of the characters are drawn a little too broadly: the over the top “foreign” fashion designer and co-pursuer of Dale, Alberto Beddini being a case in point, that said, actor Sebastien Torkia manages to raise the biggest laughs of the night along with an hysterical Rebecca Thornhill as Madge, wife of Jerry’s manager; whose one-liners are gold dust. Mention too must be made of John Conroy as valet Bates, whose homilies from a diverse range of relatives include such gems as: “fair words never buttered any parsnips”; these asides delivered delightfully by Conroy punctuate the proceedings throughout.  As a nod to the original stars, the writers also cleverly manage to include a paraphrase of the famous quote from Bob Thaves about Ginger Rogers: “don’t forget…everything he did, I did backwards and in high heels”. Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 12.03.26 Charlotte Gooch (Dale Tremont) is one of the country’s finest dancers and she executes each routine with enviable ease, but the stand out star is Alan Burkitt as our hero, Jerry Travers. You would be hard-pressed to find a better dancer on any stage, anywhere around the globe, that he also has the most perfect, era-evocative voice and razor sharp timing is just beautiful icing on the cake. But it’s the glorious music of Irving Berlin and the exceptional dance routines that accompany it that makes this musical magical, songs such as: “Isn’t it a Lovely Day to be Caught in the Rain”, “Putting on the Ritz”, “Cheek to Cheek” and of course, “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails” that never fail to put a smile on the face of any lover of classic musicals. The choreography by Bill Deamer is the best you could wish for: elegant, inventive and seemingly effortless, it is no more spectacular than in the title number, where a chorus line of silk top-hatted dancers tap together in perfect synchronicity. In these cash-strapped, doom-laden times, a dose of perfectly executed, elegant escapism is the order of the day and this is old-school glamour at its best. This simply is top class – not to be missed.

Runs until Sat 13 December