“I concluded from your airs and manners that you were bred in Tufnell Park”
The Kissing-Dance is a Howard Goodall musical with lyrics and book by Charles Hart which is based on the 18th Century Oliver Goldsmith classic comedy She Stoops To Conquer. Set over one long night in Nonesuch, somewhere in the English countryside on All Fools’ Eve, it’s a story of comic misunderstandings as a London suitor is fooled into believing his prospective father-in-law’s house is an inn by the cheeky Tony Lumpkin, causing his intended to test his honour with her own scheme to foil her mother’s plans for her, whilst other secret affairs are revealed, missing family jewels cause consternation and general mayhem ensues until the sun finally rises again.
Following on from the well-received but prematurely-closed Love Story, The Kissing-Dance reveals a slightly more playful side to Goodall’s composing, embracing an English pastoral influence which allied to the wit of much of Hart’s lyrics, makes this really quite a sprightly affair. There are moments that feel almost like Gilbert & Sullivan, especially in the multi-layered finale to Act 1 with its many counterpointed melodies creating a harmonious delight. It wasn’t always so successful though, the title song feeling a little out of place with the rest of the show and not helped by being sung by the servants oddly, a small thing but still a bump in an otherwise smooth ride.
The actor-musician side of things was kept nicely unobtrusive, a wise choice in the limited space of the Jermyn Street, and under Tom Attwood’s musical direction, the heavily-piano based orchestrations worked well, accompanied by violin and a variety of wind instruments. Performance-wise, David Burt and Beverley Klein brought their experience to bear with cracking turns and in the latter case, the most unexpected expletive of the year, but there was also excellent work from defender of the understudies Gina Beck and Gemma Sutton as the sisterly friends with a genuine warmth and connection as they sang and gossiped about their potential love matches, also impressively played by Ian Virgo and Dylan Turner respectively. Jack Shalloo’s roguish Tony Lumpkin was good value for money but a little predictable for me as it was too similar to his most recent role in Departure Lounge, I’d love to see him stretch a little more dramatic muscle so I may have to take in his reprise of Hamlet the Musical.
Director Lotte Wakeham has moved the action to an Edwardian timeframe which works nicely especially with Karen Frances’ costumes but I wasn’t as keen on her tendency to have her characters keep tipping the wink. It perhaps speaks more to my tendencies but I prefer my musicals to be played with a straight bat, I don’t need to be reminded of the inherent daftness of proceedings, especially when there’s musical instruments all over the place, and it’s an extra layer that isn’t really needed here as the company perform with a charm and talented enthusiasm which is more than enough.