High Society: The Old Vic

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Some complain theatre, especially musical theatre, should not be performed in the round as it spoils the spectacle and so the show. These naysayers should see The Old Vic’s High Society.

Actors appear to blend with ushers, mingling with an unaware audience arriving to cross a stage, empty except for a piano, to take their seats. No lights lower when internationally renowned jazz pianist Joe Stilgoe (or is he Joey Powell?) seats himself, asking the audience for requests.

This could fail spectacularly, instead Powell’s/Stilgoe’s musical dexterity has everyone singing along to Night and Day. He and the cast segue seamlessly into Maria Friedman’s tightly directed show as houselights dim.

The chorus is superb: girls glide, boys bop and in a heartbeat we’re transported to Fifties East Coast America. The intimate production means actors are so close you can smell their cologne and perfume; the show’s slick set changes seamless.

Although you know Dexter (the brilliant Rupert Young) is trouble the minute you see him you forgive his foibles. True, it’s clearly corny but it’s completely captivating. Familiar songs feel fresh and fantastic – you can’t help singing along silently.

This is a musical about deception but the biggest con is on the audience who sit enraptured as both cast and crew charm with their creativity. Staging is sublime – it really is amazing the amount achieved in so small a space. A swimming pool appears on stage courtesy of Peter Mumford’s imaginative lighting.

Kate Fleetwood transfigures the audience, taking them thrillingly through Tracey Lord’s transformation from spoiled society snob to lovely lady.

Barbara Flynn’s performance as Mother Lord is pure Debbie Reynolds with Jeff Sprawle’s surprisingly spry Uncle Willy a wonderful comic foil.

George is played to perma-tanned perfection by Richard Grieve. His smarmy demeanour means you route for love-rival Dexter soon after George first enters.

Hailing from the wrong part of town, reporters Mike (Jamie Parker) and Liz (Annabel Scholey) are all brassy business, in their quest for a tabloid scoop.

Anyone who’s ever been in love and believes in second chances will fall head over heels for this, the perfect curtain call for Kevin Spacey’s stellar run as The Old Vic’s Artistic Director. A magnum of champagne should be raised in his honour.

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