THE Mill at Sonning’s production of Top Hat is stunning winter fayre. Two and a half hours of sparkling, dazzling theatre that will put a spring in your step, a smile on your face and have you jigging all the way back to the car park afterwards. Both sublime and divine as we are transported back to the 1930s, in the process zig zagging across continents, starting in New York, travelling to London and ending up in Venice.
Produced by Jonathan O’Boyle and marvellously choreographed by Ashley Nottingham, the musical (a glorious farce) is infused with style and panache from start to finish. Of course, the classic songs and lyrics of Irving Berlin (Puttin’ On The Ritz, Cheek To Cheek and Let’s Face The Music And Dance to name but a few) give Top Hat a head start. But what this production possesses – that makes it so special – is a cast that fizzes with style. Berroca on steroids.
While Jack Butterworth (all tapping feet) is commanding as the besotted and mischievous Jerry Travers, Tiffany Graves and Paul Kemble excel as the squabbling Hardwicks and Billie-Kay Payne sparkles as Dale Tremont (the focus of Travers’ fervent attentions), it’s the ensemble that makes this show so special. They are stunning – as they tap dance one moment and then play a cameo the next (a dresser who thinks he is the one who should be on stage – Charlie Booker – or chambermaids who have theatrical dreams beyond their station).
The fact that ensemble members Booker and Meg Power are making their professional debuts at Top Hat never shows – and reflects well on The Mill at Sonning and its managing and artistic director Sally Hughes. The newcomers add to the show’s vibrancy.
The production is a logistical nightmare, given the confines of the theatre. But Jason Denvir (set designer) makes it work deliciously as cast members hurtle up and down the theatre’s aisles like Olympic athletes and the stage is cleverly split (with room numbers shone onto the boards) when the play switches from one hotel room to another below.
The costumes (Natalie Titchener) are magnificent – the one that Madge Hardwick wears when she makes her dramatic entrance on stage will take your breath away. Lady Gaga, eat your heart out.
With Delme Thomas gloriously hamming it up as Italian dress designer Beddini and Brendan Cull playing Horace Hardwick’s moody personal assistant Bates with a winning mix of acerbity and dead pan humour, The Mill’s Top Hat is top drawer.
As for the music, Chris Poon (musical director and supervisor) works miracles from his hidden eyrie.
The shows run until 8 January. You won’t be disappointed, but tickets are in short supply (dinner or lunch, priced into the tickets, is of a high standard). I can confirm that the Steak and Ale Pie is as good as pies come.
Top Hat, White Tie and Tails … Food And A Glorious Night/Afternoon Out In Sonning. If you’re lucky, you might catch sight of local residents George and Amal Clooney (big supporters of the theatre) and Parliamentarian of the Year Theresa May (local MP). What more could you ask for.
For more info – https://millatsonning.com/
Title image by Andreas Lambis Photography