29 May 2012

Top Hat at the Aldwych

I am or a certain age and that's the age that grew up watching classic black and white films. My favourites were the Marx Brothers but I also had a soft spot for some of the musicals and another one for Fred Astaire's dancing.

And that's my excuse for going to see Top Hat at the Aldwych Theatre.

The immediate impression was that I had walked in to a convention of some sort. Almost everybody there was the same age and colour as me, which does not usually happen at the theatres that I go to.

The second impression was of daylight robbery as I paid £4 for a bottle of ordinary Carlsberg (the best of a poor choice).

My interest in Top Hat was not that great so I had gone for Plan B. Plan A is an expensive seat in the front row of the circle whereas Plan B is a cheap seat somewhere near the back. Actually the view from there was OK and was made even better in the second half when I moved to one of the few empty seats nearby that also had an empty seat in front of it.

The story opens with a song and dance routine featuring the leading man, Jerry Travers, performing on Broadway for the last time before going to England to appear in a show there.

The transportation back to 1935 is immediate with the period costumes, tap dancing (when did anybody last do tap dancing?), and pretty formations formed by the dancers.

It was a very happy start to what proved to be a very happy evening.

In England, Jerry meets Dale Tremont, and equally rich and supercilious person. He falls in love, she sort of does too but mistakes him for the husband of a friend so she runs away to Venice. Jerry follows, more misunderstanding ensue, more songs are sung and more dances are, er, danced.

And then it all ends happily ever after.

The story is told with dollops of humour and a lot of charm, everybody is good and everybody is happy. This is the good life as only extreme wealth can lead it.

The songs play a backing role to the plot and act almost like advert breaks on TV by breaking the story up in to more manageable chunks.

Some of the songs are very famous and Dancing Cheek to Cheek is probably the high point of the show.

There is dancing too but less than I expected and less extravagant than I expected, but then this was not Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers.

To balance this there was far more humour that I expected both in the plot and in some of the characterisation.

The two leads were pretty bland, that's the characters not the actors, but a manservant and a frustrated lover in particular were superb and were responsible for most of the laugh out loud moments.

The dialogue was pretty weak with a lot of old jokes poorly worked into the script (including at least one from Groucho Marx that I noticed). Luckily the dialogue was almost inconsequential and was never meant to be taken that seriously so no real harm was done.

Taken as a package, Top Hat exceeded expectations and provided a fun-filled and jolly evening.

I rounded the experience off with a pint of Sam Smith's Old Brewery Bitter in the nearby Lyceum, a pub that I've spent many an evening in. The beer was much nicer than the Carlsberg and much cheaper too.

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