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Review: Top Hat, at Upstairs At The Gatehouse

Strictly Come Dancing star Joanne Clifton among stellar cast

20 December, 2017 — By Richard Osley

Joanne Clifton and Joshua Lay in Top Hat [Photo: Darren Bell]

HERE’S an extra special Christmas present, a daring production that uses every inch of the floor at Upstairs At The Gatehouse theatre in Highgate to tap out Top Hat.

The theatre has a reputation for quality, particularly for its in-house shows at this time of year, but even by its own demanding standards this one is stunning. Irving Berlin’s granddaughter was apparently in to see it on opening night. And she will have surely left thinking that his score – songs like Puttin’ On The Ritz and Let’s Face The Music And Dance – had been well served.

In comes Joanne Clifton, last year’s Strictly Come Dancing champion, who is making a name for herself in musical theatre, to play Dale Tremont, the catch confused by who is actually courting her. She is superb, you could be in a magical ballroom when she dances, but surely by design and consideration, director John Plews has been careful not to make the show all about this coup casting. Instead, everybody enjoys themselves, and everybody has a moment to shine on a set constructed to allow the tap routines come at you from high and low.

Leading man Joshua Lay, playing Jerry Travers, is just as an inspired acquisition, as much for his ability to rap out some smart one-liners as his sweeping slow dances with Clifton. This is just as well, because like so many musicals, the plot hinges on a case of mistaken identity, which could be too familiar if it was not played so smartly. There is great repartee between Darren Benedict and Ellen Verenieks as Horace and Madge Hardwick, a dysfunctional married couple, the male half of which Tremont has confused for Travers.

If the story sounds a maze, it’s simpler to tell in song and dance. The resplendent second half zooms by and if only you could stop time, rewind and watch the routine to Let’s Face The Music again and again. No wonder they were standing to applaud the finale.

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