Chris Eldon Lee reviews ‘Top Hat’, which is at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre until Sat 1st November
It’s tough enough being the understudy in a straight play; having to keep all those lines in mind for weeks on end. But imagine how much more difficult it is when there are thousands of rapid dance steps to compute too. So when the signs went up at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre advising that the part of Jerry Travers was to be played by Ben Palmer (promoted from a lowly role), I worried for him. But I needn’t have.
Travers is, of course, the Fred Astaire part in the 1930s black and white RKO musical film “Top Hat”, but Mr Palmer was equally his match in every department – from spats and taps to waggish gags and a loveable boyish grin which made him look alarmingly like a young Jim Carrey.
His footwork is fabulous, his enthusiasm infectious and his comic timing immaculate. And, bearing in mind he was a stand in, his personal chemistry with the regular leading lady fizzed like pink champagne.
Charlotte Gooch, in the Ginger Rogers role of Dale Tremont, was equally impressive. She kicked so high it was positively dangerous. There were great comic cameos from Clive Hayward and Rebecca Thornhill as the Hardwicks, John Conroy as the bolshie butler Bates, and especially from Sebastien Torka as the ridiculous Italian dress designer Alberto Beddini. His mangling of the English language was constantly entertaining – “the penny has finally come home to roost” – and when he removed his own clothes, in a frenzied, pantomime, middle-aged strip tease, he turned the auditorium into a hen house.
Indeed, the comedy is remarkably fresh, considering the jokes are all 80 years old and pepper a plot device that dates back beyond Shakespeare. A confusion over names fatally stalls an obvious love affair. She thinks he’s married and he can’t make out if she’s a goddess or a gold digger.
I loved the precise attention to detail – from the perfectly timed shadow dancing to the drummer’s high hat brush effects simulating the pouring of bubbly. The dance routines are truly dazzling and the choreography of “Wild About You” made me laugh out loud. The slick sliding set works a treat; the chorus line is all teeth and tempo; the orchestra is full blown and opulence abounds. It’s all terribly confident and clever; and the show has no quarms whatsoever about taking the mickey out of itself.
The original film was designed to lift the spirits in the midst of recession and this new stage tour is doing that all over again. Only this time it’s live – and in glorious technicolour.
Visit www.grandtheatre.info for bookings & information about Wolverhampton’s Grand Theatre