My first trip to The Mill at Sonning was really a trip to the 1940s. The film Top Hat starred Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and all the glam of the classical Hollywood cinema era. Top Hat wasn’t adapted for the stage until 2011, premiering in the UK and starring Tom Chambers and Zizi Strallen. This musical filled with glitz and glam is back at The Mill for the second year running, with a (mostly) new cast donning tail coats and feathers.

Credit: Andreas Lambis

As with most musical film adaptations of this era, the show is rather lacking in plot – similar to Anything Goes and other shows of that ilk – you don’t go along for the plot. Nethertheless, Top Hat follows Broadway star Jerry Travers (Jonny Labey) as he takes on a starring role in London’s West End. He soon falls head over heels in love with Dale Tremont (Billie-Kay), a wealthy society girl. But a case of mistaken identity causes chaos.

Jason Denvir’s set is wonderfully reminiscent of the era with its art deco look transporting the audience to the 40s. It’s apparent that close attention to detail has been applied here, as every prop and set piece matches perfectly. Scene changes could easily be clunky, but they’ve been expertly choreographed to run smoothly and not disrupt the flow. 

Jonathan O’Boyle’s direction is sharp and keeps the momentum up throughout, ensuring every scene is well-paced and runs like clockwork. O’Boyle also makes sure the space is utilised to its full potential with cast members moving around the entire auditorium. At times you didn’t know where to look, which gave an almost immersive quality to the production. 

The show is in capable hands with Labey as the lead. His vocals are velvety smooth, and he oozes suave charisma. I did feel as though he wasn’t quite projecting enough at the beginning of Act One, which surprised me considering the small size of the theatre, but he quickly found his groove. Labey is an exceptional dancer. Astaire has left some rather large shoes to fill, but Labey wears these comfortably, showing wonderful skill and natural ability. Every step appears effortlessly executed by Labey, and his performance transcends time – you would believe he’s a gentleman from the 1940s quite easily. 

In such a small space and with audience members in the front row at foot level with the company on stage, there is no room for errors, and this cast ensures they hit every move precisely. The dancing really is the star of this show, and Ashley Nottingham’s choreography utilises various different styles with a specific focus on tap but also some ballroom influences scattered throughout as well. The dancing really is dreamy in this show.

Credit: Andreas Lambis

Julia J Nagle is wonderfully funny in her portrayal of Madge, the money-hungry wife of Horace (Paul Kemble). Kemble and Nagle have great chemistry and prove an excellent comic duo throughout the show. Kemble in particular brings a physicality to his performance which has the audience laughing throughout. Andy Rees’ performance as Beddini is almost at risk of being a caricature, but this could be due to the way that the character has been written and not fully the fault of the actor portraying him. 

Although I’m a champion of new musicals, I’m also a sucker for the classics. Yes, many of them are plotless, but the score and dancing are what make them so successful, and who doesn’t love a bit of cheese (especially at this time of year). I do feel that a good chunk of time could be shaved off of the show to make it more concise, and it would remain just as delightful. The vocal performances found within this show are dreamy, and the dancing is a pure spectacle. 

Top Hat proves to be glamorous, hilarious, and timeless. This is the perfect show for the festive season, a great alternative to Christmas shows but just as heartwarming. This is why old Hollywood classic musicals should still be staged – because a whole new generation of people should be introduced to ‘Puttin’ On The Ritz’ in person. So Don your ‘Top Hat, White Tie and Tails’ and head on down to The Mill at Sonning for some toe-tapping magic.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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