Book: Guy Bolton, P.G Wodehouse, Howard Lindsay & Russel Crouse.
New book: Timothy rouse & John Weidman
Music & lyrics: Cole Porter
Director: Alex Sutton
Reviewer: Miriam Sallon
There is a certain formula for a 1930s musical which, in 2019 often wears thin by the second act: a strong foundation of improbability with, most likely, two mismatched couples, a bunch of ‘hilarious’ misunderstandings and a happy ending whose precise details become entirely inevitable about ten minutes in. In theory Anything Goes should fit neatly in with its tired type. Yet somehow, whilst the plot follows every single convention, it remains energetic and entertaining to the last drop.
Billy Crocker (Toby Turpin), a handsome casanova with shallow pockets, falls in love with debutante Hope Harcourt (Lulu-Mae Pears) who is engaged to Lord Evelyn Oekleigh (Daniel Gray), a well-meaning but stuffy British nobleman. Billy is in turn loved by another, nightclub singer Reno Sweeney (Olivia Hallett). And all of them end up on board the S. S. American, along with Billy’s boss, a second-rate gangster, a couple of female runaway criminals disguised as men of the cloth, and a bunch of other excitable passengers and crewmen who all love a tap dance and a big number.
There is no point in attempting realism in a show like this, and director Alex Sutton has decided to lean in to the innate ridiculousness, casting twelve-year-old Milo Hallett as middle-aged banker Elisha J. Whitney. Hallett’s appearance is a constant source of enjoyment throughout as he attempts to woo Miss Harcourt’s mother (“Eli, you haven’t changed in forty years”), incidentally played by Spike Maxwell who marries Dame Edna and Mrs Bucket meticulously.
Turpin is classically handsome and believably in love; he lacks the ratpack swagger of a supposed lady’s man, but his chemistry with Pears as well as his beautiful vibrato make him a charming leading man. Sarah Dare playing Erma, a gangster’s girl with an insatiable appetite for young sailors, is full of beguiling exuberance; with every move she conveys a suggestive wink and, though little in stature, she commands the stage.
Hallett, however, steals the show from an already exceedingly talented cast, giving texture to what might have been a very two-dimensional character, as well as fulfilling the role of outrageous entertainer. Her rendition of ‘Blow, Gabriel, Blow’ is a raucous extravaganza.
That being said, there are no spare parts in this performance; every cast member has their high-kick and show smile at the ready. Whilst there are just enough slow numbers to give the audience a moment to breathe, they are short and invariably followed by a jazz-handed, bell-kicking, full-cast celebration. The stage is a fair bit smaller than it might be for a cast of this size, but designer Diego Pitarch does well to pack everything in nonetheless, and the end result is that of a very intimate viewing of a very grand production.
The story is invariably dated, but so much so that it seems purposefully absurd: Murdering mobsters are celebrities, bankers are boring nobodies, and every woman is just waiting for someone to propose. The plot is hardly the main event however, serving instead as a thinly veiled excuse for a Cole Porter medley. But it’s hard to argue when the songs include such major classics as ‘I Get a Kick Out of You’, ‘You’re the Top’, ‘It’s De-Lovely’ and of course the title song ‘Anything Goes’.
The addition of P.G. Wodehouse alongside Cole Porter is the theatre equivalent of a super group, and whilst the Shakespearian comedy-style tidy ending is eye-rollingly predictable and completely unlikely, the plot basically hangs on fake facial hair and nun habits as sufficient disguises, and the script is one long double-entendre, regardless it is a masterpiece of its kind, so let go and give in to that catchy foot-tapping philosophy, ‘Anything Goes.’
Runs until: August 24, 2019 | Image: Konrad Bartelski