FeaturedMusicalReviewSouth East

High Society– The Mill at Sonning

Reviewer: Sonny Waheed

Music and Lyrics: Cole Porter

Book: Arthur Kopit

Director: Joseph Pitcher

Musical Arranger: Jerome van den Berghe

It’s the eve of socialite and heiress Tracy Lord’s wedding. It’s set to be the society wedding of the season, with over 700 elite guests. Except there’s a fly in the ointment, so to speak… well a few, actually. Tracy’s ex-husband, Dexter has unexpectedly, to her dismay and the delight of her family, turned up. Worse than that, he comes bearing the news that to protect her father’s reputation and has invited a reporter and photographer to cover the wedding.

The reporters think they’re undercover and don’t know that Tracy (Victoria Serra) knows they’re reporters. They sit on the socialist side of the political spectrum and are dismayed by the display of wealth from Tracy and her family. They both would rather do other things but, out of necessity, are cornered into jobs they despise.

And so, this comedy of errors, manners and class kicks off. Tracy starts to realise that husband-to-be George (Will Richardson) may not be the man for her. The unexpected showing up of her ex-husband ( Matt Blaker) forces her to look back on that part of her life and, in some way, maybe even reconsider him. And then there’s Mike (Matthew Jeans) the reluctant reporter, a writer with the soul of a poet, who stirs new emotions in Tracy.

Arthur Kopit’s plot is tangled, but surprisingly, for a love triangle – or should that be love quadrangle – uncomplicated. The dialogue is deliciously chipper with an array of wonderfully charming sleights and mordacious asides. Joseph Pitcher’s direction is light and well-paced, adeptly zipping through the story with great vim. He balances the multiple storylines effectively whilst keeping it zany without overflowing into pantomime.

The blend of Tom Noyes’s musical direction of the arrangements by Jerome van den Berghe and Jaye Elster’s choreography makes this production truly shine. Despite a small band of four musicians, the sound gives the impact of a much bigger ensemble and sits perfectly with what anyone would expect from Cole Porter. Elster’s choreography is the true joy of the show. The small staging area doesn’t prevent the display of tap, jazz and contemporary along with an inventive use of props to deliver a truly joyous set of routines.

With such a foundation, the cast could easily coast it and still keep the audience happy, but they don’t. Each one of the ensemble works a treat, but it’s Serra’s take on the spoilt Tracy that provides the true heart of this piece. Her transition to finding her true love is wonderful to watch and her three potential beaus deliver performances that give you reason to understand her quandary.

If there is a gripe in this production it’s that it does feel a little bit flabby in parts. The production is taken from the 1997 staged version rather than the 1956 film. The play has a lot more songs than the film and not all of them are vintage Cole Porter. As such, it feels a bit padded out, especially towards the latter part of Act One. But this is a minor gripe. Even these less successful elements, still deliver the goods better than you might expect.

This production of High Society is a true testament to Hollywood musicals. It’s a celebration of the genre and a hoot to watch. And it’s an even greater joy to see such a production outside the West End. If you like the film, like the music of Porter or like anything close to classic musicals, this will not disappoint.

Runs until 20 January 2024

The Reviews Hub Score

Joyously fun

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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