High Society - Open Air Theatre 2003

Generating eager anticipation, this summer's Open-Air production of High Society extended its run before even opening, a sure sign of the popularity of the classic Cole Porter musical and its inherent suitability for such a beautiful venue. Based upon Philip Barry's stage play The Philadelphia Story, here's a version with new material supplied by Arthur Kopit. Supplementary Porter songs like the delicious 'Let's Misbehave' enhance the superb score and the Lord family's beleaguered servants now form a central framework, supplying both indefatigable service and satiric comment.

It's the eve of heiress Tracy Lord's second marriage to the reliable but humourless George. In the background are her infuriating ex-husband Dexter and the shadowy figures of Mike and Liz, columnists from a gossip magazine sent to cover the society wedding. Over the next twenty-four hours a heady cocktail of love, lust and champagne inspire some flamboyant behaviour and by the time the wedding dawns events have taken interesting developments. Paul Farnsworth's evocative set is pitch-perfect, a miniature mansion poised above the topiary whilst the band are housed on-stage in a small marquee that blends seamlessly into the stage.

Hal Fowler and Tracie Bennett make a sizzling team as the errant reporters from Spy magazine. Both blessed with first-class voices and abundant charisma, they're an absolute delight to witness, similar praise being merited by Brian Green's marvellous Uncle Willie who sings a persuasive paean to the wooing powers of the bottle! As the younger daughter Dinah, Claire Redcliffe is absolutely in her element and Annette McLaughlin grows comfortably into the lead role of Tracy, acting rather than singing her strongest forte.

It's hard to erase memories of the wonderful 1950's film but, despite a few casting glitches, overall it offers everything you could hope for on a summer evening: enchanting music, sparkling performances and witty dialogue; the tender tightrope between heartbreak and happiness being manoeuvred with consummate savoir faire.

(Amanda Hodges)

Notices from the popular press....

NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "Buoyant production...ageless, bittersweet appeal." MADDY COSTA for THE GUARDIAN says, "Talbot's production is not an ambitious one." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "Ian Talbot’s production is eminently watch-able." DOMINIC CAVENDISH for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "This is a bland disappointment."ROBERT SHORE for TIME OUT says, "Lively production."

External links to full reviews from newspapers

The Times
Daily Telegraph
The Guardian

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