Theatre Review: High Society @ Upstairs At The Gatehouse

By JamesD Last edited 101 months ago
Theatre Review: High Society @ Upstairs At The Gatehouse

highsoc_jan10.jpg Until the end of January there's still time to treat yourself to a feast of classic Cole Porter tunes including 'Let's Misbehave' and 'Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?' Upstairs at the Gatehouse, Highgate in their impressive revival of High Society.

The musical started out as a 1956 film with Grace Kelly, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, but is presented here in its belated 1998 Broadway adaptation with additional Porter numbers interpolated. The film took its story, of a wealthy socialite called Tracy Lord whose wedding plans are disrupted by the simultaneous arrival of her ex-husband and an attractive journalist, from the earlier play and film The Philadelphia Story. However, director John Plews has ingeniously transposed the action from its original American setting to Hampshire. So in summary, this production is an Anglicised version of a Broadway adaptation of a Hollywood musical based on an earlier film of a stage play!

While this may sound complicated, the breezy and colourful production makes it all seem effortlessly simple. The music alone is a joy, and the choreography is accomplished. The younger cast members are all of a very high standard, with Peter Kenworthy particularly striking as Tracy's suave ex-husband Dexter, demonstrating charisma and a warm tone.

While it's true that some of the quick-fire banter of songs such as 'Well, Did You Evah!' gets lost amid the music and on-stage action, this is more than made up for by the exuberant energy of the performers. And if at times the camp bedroom farce and English accents combine into something closer to a Carry On film than anything Porter would recognise, this actually helps to rejuvenate what might otherwise seem quite a dated show.

Definitely not one to miss if you like your musicals as sparkling and heady as vintage champagne.

High Society runs until 31st January at Upstairs at the Gatehouse, Highgate. Tickets are from £10.

Last Updated 15 January 2010


It's hard to say what's added to 'High Society' by transposing it to Hampshire from New England (or Rhode Island or Philadelphia or wherever else this much-re-worked piece claims to originate) except to save the cost of a dialogue coach, since the manners and mores are still largely American.

Of all the musicals that have been successfully 'chamberised' Upstairs at the Gatehouse by either the resident and relentlessly inventive Plews family or visiting Thom Southerland, High Society is arguably the most stupid. The plot is butchered from the Katharine Hepburn movie vehicle 'The Philadelphia Story' to the point at which it no longer makes sense as Tracy (or Samantha) Lord does or doesn't marry (or re-marry, or not divorce) CK or Dexter Haven, or the bloke once played by Frank Sinatra or possibly Bing Crosby.

Even in a much more lavish production two years ago at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre it was impossible to follow the plot, and the fact that so many of the songs for the stage musical had to be mined from the Cole Porter archive rather than written specifically for the piece, adds to the confused dilution.

Some of the comedy, and lots of the musicality are unfortunately lost from this production - despite her energetic performance, Austrlian Kirby Hughes tries to steer a course between icy Grace Kelly and wisecracking Kate Hepburn but succeeds at neither, although she sings well except in the desperate opener 'Riding High' which Merman might once have got away with in front of an indulgent crowd, but now should be cut. As should most of the dialogue and business for the annoying moppet younger sister.

None of the suitors is handsome or charismatic enough to claim the heiress's hand, and it's odd that the moments when the men work best is where they sing together (rather than with the ladies) and there was a moment in 'Well Did You Evah' when it almost took off.

Otherwise, despite my enthusiasm and respect for the Swiss Family Plewis, this was the night they invented Pomagne.