Review: Anything Goes, Upstairs at the Gatehouse

“If love affairs you like. 
With young bears you like. 
Well, nobody will oppose!”

Last year’s Christmas musical at Highgate’s Upstairs at the Gatehouse – Legally Blonde – was a break from recent tradition which has seen them lovingly recreate classic Broadway musicals like Guys and Dolls, Crazy For You and Singin’ in the Rain in miniature. Though smaller in scale, Ovation’s productions have never been lacking in ambition and so I was most pleased indeed to see Cole Porter’s Anything Goes on the slate for this festive season.

And as per usual, John Plews’ distillation of the 1934 show is a thrill from start to finish, slickly directed in its traverse staging which allows both for a practical paciness and a real fluidity of movement, especially in the cleverly constructed choreography of Chris Whittaker. With plenty of tap, a whole deal of razzmatazz and some absolute corkers of a song (‘You’re The Top’, ‘I Get A Kick Out Of You’, ‘Blow Gabriel Blow’), it’s near song and dance heaven.

It’s performed by a very capable company of fresh faces, doing some impressive work. Australian Taryn Erickson sparkles in her UK theatre debut as the irrepressible Reno Sweeney, a wisecracking woman of the world whose eye is drawn to the stuffy Englishness of Sir Evelyn Oakleigh (a tremendous comic performance from Jack Keane), who happens to be engaged to English rose Hope Harcourt who in turn is in love with roguish Billy Crocker, a good friend of Reno’s.

Samantha Dorsey and Jack McCann are both good as Hope and Billy, but there’s no denying that their character fade a little in the limelight next to Reno and Oakleigh, a fault of the writing as much as anything. There’s strong work too from David Pendlebury and Chloe Adele Edwards as gangster Moonface Martin and his moll Bonnie, adding to the shenanigans onboard the SS American as it traverses the Atlantic.

The plot is hokum but mostly enjoyably so, but given that I have called to account other shows for the same thing, I do have to point out that this is another show with an all-white cast. And more problematically, especially in light of the furore rightfully surrounding the Print Room just now, the use of ‘Oriental’ stereotypes here is right on the knuckle. 

I appreciate the limitations placed on fringe productions, Ching Ling’s brief appearance is played by stage manager Izabel Alvares Florence for example, but the jailbreak whilst disguised as Chinamen (complete with accents…) feels to me like the kind of plot detail that should be updated or omitted. It’s of its time for sure, but that time is most definitely not now and I think we all have to do better. So an undoubtedly enjoyable show but a qualified success with that.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 29th January

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