Review: High Society at the Old Vic Theatre

Breathless dancing, emoting singing, stunning costumes and … the mouth-watering smell of bacon!

There are some advantages of getting nosebleed seats at the theatre: you get a bird’s eye view of the stage, and you are not drooling from the smell of just-grilled bacon and eggs…

With an opening scene set at breakfast, Maria Friedman‘s production of High Society starts with a family tableaux when the impending wedding between Tracy and George is the main topic of the conversation.

And why use fake props or miming cooking and eating when you can actually cook and chomp away at some crispy bacon? Luckily the smell was only faint by the time it reached the Lilian Baylis Circle, the top circle at the theatre. If I had been sitting right in front of the stage, I wouldn’t probably be able to stop myself from stealing a slice of bacon!

But I digress: High Society is not Ready, Steady, Cook!

Inspired by the 1956 Film

High Society (1956), the Cole Porter musical, starred Grace Kelly, who became the only European royal to ever be associated with a gold-selling record, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

On the opening night, 1st May 2015, the day after the show’s preview, everything was going smoothly until… After a very energetic dance scene, featuring a tap dancer (the incredibly talented Omari Douglas) and other dancers jumping on and off two adjoining pianos, something went wrong with the hydraulics and both pianos slid 45 degrees. The show had to stop for about 5 minutes, while the mechanical error was being investigated.

This slight incident did not affect the performance at all, which continued with a lot of pizzazz.

Amazing Choreography

I will get to the singing and the leads shortly, but first I need to mention the truly spectacular choreography, playing homage to Old Hollywood with breathless dancing, can-can moves and some acrobatics in 50s petticoats.

Praise to you sir, Mr Nathan M. Wright! He worked with Baz Luhrmann on The Great Gatsby and Moulin Rouge, and his stunning choreography was exciting and original.

“Breathless” is the first adjective that came to mind to describe the dance sequences in High Society – it turns out that Breathless is also the name of the ITV drama directed by Paul Unwin featuring Wright’s choreography.

The Leads: Kate Fleetwood and Rupert Young

Kate Fleetwood plays Tracy, whose imminent nuptials to George (Richard Grieve) are risking not going ahead when two suitors (her ex husband Dexter, played by Rupert Young, and reporter Mike, played by Jamie Connor) try to win her heart.

Kate Fleetwood has one of the most beautiful voices, so rich and warm.

Rupert Young has a charismatic presence and his singing has great emotional depth.

Their duet for True Love was extremely moving – the song that Grace Kelly and Bill Crosby sang together in the film adaptation.

Kate Fleetwood's tweet 1st May 2015

Kate kindly replied to my message on twitter congratulating her (and wondering if those microphones on her head meant a lot of suffering for her art) saying: “@paolaenergya thank you. There is no sufferance. It’s a joy. The weight of the mics is strangely grounding. Glad you enjoyed our show.”

It’s also worth mentioning the orchestra and Joe Stilgoe, who warms up the audience when people are taking their seats and he takes requests for songs to sing along at the piano. His virtuosity was on full display during the double piano scene, where he switched from one piano to the next in a musical battle.

On a very final note, I must say the staging is absolutely awesome, with different elements popping in and out and the clever use of lighting (the projected swimming pool looked very realistic). Praise goes to designer Tom Pye. I wish I could use the same “disappearing furniture” in my studio flat!

High Society at the Old Vic Theatre runs until 22nd August 2015, go see it.

Picture credit: Paola Bassanese

Screenshot from Kate Fleetwood’s twitter profile.