HIGH society

What a swell party this is... by Owen Rice

High Society Old Vic Theatre London Press Image

the opening of High Society was buzzing with excitement, not only because of the society faces scattered around the auditorium, but also because the Old Vic had created a fabulous retro atmosphere reminiscent of mid-twentieth century, monied America. It was packed out with snappy, whimsical dialogue, great musical talent, champagne cocktails and the easy sophistication of Cole Porter’s music and lyrics.

As the spectators began filling the theatre, the whole place twinkled with glitz and glamour and it beeped and booped with trumpets and trombones. There was a relaxed air of fun; fabulous, frivolous fun. Set in-the-round, the audience and the stewards mixed with the performers who were dressed in tuxedos as waiting staff, scooting about with silver trays of champagne. Sprinkled throughout the stalls were period aficionados, themselves clad in brilliant blue suits and coiffed hair. A party was about to begin and the audience was invited, prepared to be transported back sixty years or more to a place when thoughts of austerity and reality were a thousand miles and more than half a century away! Picture summer days with Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant and James Stewart (the lead actors in the 1940 film version of ‘The Philadelphia Story’) or the first filmed ‘High Society’, set in 1950’s New York with Grace Kelly, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra.

High Society Old Vic Theatre London Actors

Ellie Bamber as Dinah Lord & Jamie Parker as Mike Connor

On stage, as everyone began settling more into place, Joe Stilgoe was tinkling the ivories and asking the audience for requests as though in the middle of a live performance at a club in Philadelphia. His inventive merge of soundtracks and old favourites was hilarious and, hey presto… the show had begun without anyone realising!

High Society is a tale of modern families, mixed loyalties, second wives and husbands; layers and levels of affection – strangely common and relevant now. Tracy Lord is a spoilt, rich divorcee who is not entirely out of love with her ex, but is about to get married to a social climber in a society wedding that promises to be the spectacle of the year. There are several unwelcome and unexpected guests and twists that lead to relationships unravelling, all reaching a crescendo the night before the wedding in a feast of music, dance and spontaneous party.

High Society Old Vic Theatre London Kate Fleetwood Boat

Kate Fleetwood as Tracy Lord

Kate Fleetwood as Tracy, Ellie Bamber as little Dinah Lord, Rupert Young as C.K. Dexter and Jamie Parker as Mike Connor all make exceptional Old Vic debuts. Each delivering their own versions of favourites including ‘True Love’, ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’, ‘You’re Sensational’ and ‘Well, Did You Evah?’ with super-sized panache. At the end, naturally, there was a standing ovation of appreciation and gratitude.

In Kevin Spacey’s first year as Artistic Director at the Old Vic he chose a revival of Philip Barry’s ‘The Philadelphia Story’ – the original, non-musical version of the same tale and it was a splendid choice to come full circle this year, fully rounded. Spacey’s replacement at the Old Vic will be Matthew Warchus who previously directed Spacey (and Jeff Goldblum) at the Old Vic in the 2008 production of Speed-the-Plow. Warchus, who has since directed shows such as Ghost and Matilda in the West End, will take up the post in the autumn.

From 30 April to 22 August
The Old Vic
The Cut
London SE1 8NB
t: 0844 871 7628 (Box Office)
w: www.oldvictheatre.com

Joe Stilgoe's jaunty tunes set the tone

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