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Kingley reigns supreme amid the High Society fun



Review by David Munro

ONCE upon a time there was a play called Holiday, by a Mr Philip Barry, which starred Miss Katherine Hepburn.

Both liked each other’s work so much that Miss Hepburn commissioned Mr Barry to write a new play for her alone.

That play was The Philadelphia Story which was a great success and so was the film version, which restored Miss Hepburn to the foremost ranks of Hollywood stars.

Messrs MGM, who made the film, also liked it and decided to remake it as a musical for their new star, Miss Grace Kelly, who couldn’t sing and couldn’t dance, and so was, in the eyes of the Hollywood moguls, perfect to star in a musical.

To support Miss Kelly , MGM hired Mr Bing Crosby and Mr Frank Sinatra to do the singing and Mr Cole Porter to write words and music and so, Best Beloved, the musical High Society was born.

A stage version was created bolstered by other songs by Mr Porter and this is now on tour and can this week be seen at the Richmond Theatre.

The story concerns a difficult lady, Tracy Lord, who is about to get married to one of her father’s employees. This marriage is scuppered by her former husband, whom she re-marries instead.

Two journalists are also in evidence for the purpose of a Hullo-style coverage of the wedding and to pad out the action. Otherwise, apart form a few songs and dances, nothing much happens.

It is, as you will have gathered, an evening of simple pleasures, dependant for your enjoyment on the talents of those performing.

I am pleased to report that apart from one disastrous exception, all concerned perform very well and it is a most pleasurable entertainment.

Tracy Lord is well acted, sung and danced by Katherine Kingley, whom I have not had the pleasure of seeing before, but if her performance last night is anything to go by, I shall certainly expect to see a lot more of her in the future.

She has great charm and a sense of comedy which made the more acerbic aspects of her role acceptable.

In short, all the hallmarks of a West End leading lady where I hope to see her again in a part equally befitting her talents.

Her on and off husband, Dexter Haven, was also delightfully impersonated by Graham Bickley, who had charm, a masculine personality well suited to the part and could sing and dance well.

The two reporters, Mike Connors and Liz Imbrie, were played by Paul Robinson and Ria Jones, respectively.

Paul Robinson is an experienced performer and one whom I liked greatly in the Gene Kelly role in Singing in the Rain.

He brings the same elegance and charm to his role of Mike, although I felt he was shamefully underused in the part. Again, he is another I would like to see in the West End soon, where he rightfully belongs.

Ria Jones I don’t recall seeing before and I certainly would have remembered her if I had, as she has a strong personality and is an excellent comedienne with an assertive style of her own.

The featured player, Susie Blake, played Tracy’s mother. She has just left the soap Coronation Street but she might just as well have stayed there for all she had to do in this part.

The Fiancée, George Kittredge, was delineated in the plot as inept and inappropriate husband material, but he needn’t have been so downright awful as he was, as played by Bryan Torfeh.

There were no redeeming features in either the character or the performance, and Mr Torrfeh’s destruction of one of Porter's loveliest ballads, I Worship You, verged on the sacrilegious.

There was, however, a delightful younger sister, Dinah, who was played with just the right amount of coltish humour by Lara Pulver.

The rest of the elder generation, Tracy’s father and drunken uncle, were fairly stock characters but James Jordan and Royston Kean breathed what life there was to be had into the parts.

The nimble chorus of footmen and maids were competently led by David Alder, as the Butler, and their accomplished footwork was a pleasing background to the comedy of manners being played out by their betters.

The direction was by Ian Talbot, who manages to confine the rather sprawling production I remember from last year at Regents Park, into the more limited area of the Richmond stage very successfully.

This is a bright, frothy evening and unlike the champagne so copiously swigged on stage, will not give you a hangover the next morning – so indulge yourself, I don’t think you will regret it.

High Society book by Arthur Kpit (based on the play, The Philadelphia Story, by Philip Barry);
Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter (additional lyrics by Susan Birkenhead).
Directed by Ian Talbot; Choreographer, Gillian Gregory; Designer, Paul Farnsworth; Lighting, Jason Taylor; Sound, Andy Collins; Music Director, James Dunsmore.
CAST: Katherine Kingsley; James Jordan; Susie Blake; Lara Pulver; Royston Kean; Graham Bickley; Bryan Torfeh; Paul Robinson; Ria Jones; David Alder; Goles Alderson; Cara Elston; Andrew Hutchings; Nina Kristofferson; Brenda Moore; Julia J Nagle; Andrew Searle; Tony Stansfield; Julia-Ann Dixon; Thomas Aldridge; Nigel Watson.
Richmond Theatre, The Green, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 IQJ.
Mon, Oct 18 – Sat, Oct 22, 2004
Evenings: 7.45pm / Matinees: Wed & Sat: 2.30pm.
Box Office: 020 8940 0088.

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