Review: Anything Goes by Cole Porter

Jane Darby’s sparkling production of Anything Goes was as delightful as the famous Cole Porter song suggests.  The treats were more delicious than delovely, packing a real contemporary punch into this 1930s farce set on the cruise liner Americana

From the moment the audience entered the Ellis Theatre we were treated to a sumptuous dockside vista, complete with sailors that seemed to have walked straight off an early 20th Century cigarette card.  The interactive element of this innovative production was set up: we were guests on a themed cruise, the entertainment – Anything Goes – but a disaster (in the form of ‘man-flu’) required the all-female crew to recruit men from the audience.  The planted male cast were quick to volunteer – much to the relief of several boys in the Remove.

This quickly ascended into a very polished and sharply slapstick production that buzzed and fizzed from one classic musical number to the next.  Perhaps the greatest compliment for this production was the seamless nature of the musical transitions, the actors effortlessly switched from dialogue to music putting character and intention before the school-actor stereotype of ‘showing-off’ in front of their peers.

‘Say it in speech and some will listen; those nearest to you perhaps – and maybe they’ll disagree – BUT – say it in song and the mob will hush – will seldom disagree and all are charmed enough to do your bidding.’ (Sondheim)

This was, from beginning to end, an ensemble piece and each member of the cast and backstage team contributed to making this such a glittering success.  However, there are a few outstanding performances that should make special mention here.  Georgia Vyvyan (MO U6) as the nightclub entertainer Reno Sweeney swept the stage with a subtlety and psychological continuity not usually associated with Cole Porter.  Miss Vyvyan took advantage of every nuance and presented us with both the marble carved entertainer (Blow Gabriel, Blow!) and the beating heart of a woman on the edge of finding herself alone in life; her final thought in ‘I get a kick out of you’ seeming far more tragic than the song title first suggests.  Jim Crossland (L6 C1) as Billy Crocker was perfect casting.  Jim bounded around the performance space with all the energy that puppy love could muster.  This was high comedy at its best, from the shameless Sailor-suit disguise to the revelation of Plum Blossom’s fate in the last scene.  Mr Crossland’s ability to make us care about his love for Libby Adam’s (MM L6) Hope Harcourt was truly masterful; beyond all the play and slapstick was the classic boy-meets-girl storyline that requires genuine investment – and invest we did.  Miss Adam’s Hope Harcourt was similarly detailed as she dealt with (perhaps) the most complex part of the story, struggling with her feelings for Billy in the light of her upcoming wedding to Evelyn.  ‘Little Dream Goodbye’ brought all these strands together and was beautifully and simply staged to emphasise Porter’s most poignant and moving song in the show.  William Atterton (C1 L6) as Lord Evelyn Oakleigh was a wonderful satire of English aristocracy complete with an imperialist interest in American jargon.  His rendition of ‘Gypsy in Me’ was a comic highlight juxtaposing the ‘stiff-upper-lip’ outward character with the passionate inner beast.  Fraser Hutchinson’s (C2 L6) Moonface Martin was a fast paced missile of comic action as he catapulted himself from one mistaken identity to another.  The exhausting antics of ‘Friendship’ were truly a musical theatre masterclass.  He was ably assisted by Olivia Grant’s (MO U6) Erma who sultry presence was magnetic, hilarious and perfectly pitched.  In Buddie Beware she captivated the ensemble, the audience and anyone who happened to be passing by the theatre during the performance.  The real comic heart of this piece, however, belonged to the older generation with Rollo Sutcliffe’s (PR L6) Elisha Whitney falling for Lucy Hudson’s (EL L6) sublime Evangeline.  Miss Hudson’s performance was perfectly timed to capture every ounce of comic potential from this supporting role.  Her ‘Let’s Do It’ was a personal highlight marrying together incredible vocal control with a joyous and comic performance.  All of these central characters were held together by a very committed ensemble that provided so many highlights throughout the show.

Gallery: Anything Goes

The tap-dancing Angels and Sailors were incredibly impressive and a testament to Jo Scanlan’s fantastic choreography.  The proceedings were held together slickly by Imogen Redpath’s (MM U6) Captain and Issy Carr’s (EL L6) Purser despite the efforts of Cressida Lawrence (NC U6) and Maeve Mahony (NC U6) as the Chinese converts attempting at every turn to open an illegal casino.  There was a glorious pageant of characters from the ensemble filling the space with a real sense of variety and conjuring the glamour of a transatlantic cruise.

The onstage band were sassy, intricate and bubbling with life under the superb direction of Alex Arkwright.  The audience were treated to one glorious sounding number after another with this wonderful, textured and closely knit ensemble of musicians.  Backstage was expertly managed by Violet Mackintosh (MO Re) who showed remarkable maturity in controlling a very complicated and detailed production.

As ever the set design by Paul Cox was sumptuous, turning the Ellis theatre into the top deck of the Americana in fantastic detail.  Dale Armitage and her team produced a glittering array of 1930s costumes that shone beautifully under Josh Entecott’s bold lighting design.  This was total entertainment at its best and my hearty congratulations to all involved!

David Kenworthy
Head of Department, Drama

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