High Society, The Old Vic.

High Society is a really beautiful production, in the literal sense. Staged in the round once again at the Old Vic its small set makes the most of the in the round setting, and of the ensemble who conduct perfectly choreographed scene changes. From the opulent living room to a pool the world of High Society is created.

Opening with a half concert half sing-along with Joe Stilgoe, it was clearly going to be a different take on the classic musical, and it is real treat of a production. I’d seen the musical once before, but never the film. Unfortunately aside from a vague recollection of crossed wires and ill-advised love matches within rich Americans I had little memory of the plot. As it turns out the plot is sometimes a bit hard to keep track of (despite not being extensive) as keeping track of who is who or who wants to be with who or who knows who is who can be a little confusing. Or perhaps I was just blinded by scene changes. Either way it doesn’t actually matter because the Old Vic’s production is a gloriously staged version of a good old fashioned musical.
A highlight for me, as ever, was Jamie Parker who is given a great deal of comic work to do as Mike Connor. It’s great casting for Parker, although doesn’t let him show off his singing talent as much, which is as always a shame. Credit also should be given to Richard Grieve, who does lovely things with the overlooked (in every sense) role of George Kitterage. Meanwhile Rupert Young does excellent work as the romantic lead Dexter,  bringing life to what could end up as a rather flat romantic lead. Also all three leading men (because it really does feel like an ensemble piece) know how to work the old fashioned suit. The leading men doing stellar work, for me however the women stole this show Kate Fleetwood is a force to be reckoned with as Tracy, but also gives the character depths that could easily be missed or glossed over. 
The musical itself is a bit dated, and a fair criticism of the material might be why to care about the comings and goings of some rich folks and their marriages. However it is a charming musical with a lot to say about people in general (regardless of how many boats they may have).

What the Old Vic also delivers is a stunning production. Using a dynamic ensemble, cast as the staff within the house, stage one of the most visually stunning productions I’ve seen in years, without any of the flashy bells and whistles of a big-budget West End Musical. I’d love to see the Old Vic keep this up and stage more musicals, and stage them in this way. In particular the in the round setting gives a perspective and intimacy that many musicals staged across the river lack. I love a big flashy musical, but I also love a classic twisted into something a bit different and High Society manages this.  

I’d urge anyone so seek out this classic musical, the material speaks for itself-there’s a reason classics are classics. However the twists on the classic format that the staging and direction give allow the production a breath of fresh air. It runs until 22nd August so grab a ticket. Ticketing tip too, the ‘restricted view’ seats in what was the stage area are barely restricted at all and have an excellent view as well as being close to the stage. 

In sort of unrelated news, epic ‘celebrity spot fail’ my friend an I were sat opposite John Major and utterly failed to notice…

Published by Emily Garside

Academic, journalist and playwright. My PhD was on theatrical responses to the AIDS epidemic, and I continue to write on Queer theatrical history. Professional nerd of all things theatre.

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