Snobbish champagne socialites at the Old Vic

High Society – Old Vic Theatre, until 22 August 2015 (Tickets)wpid-wp-1434876973039.jpg

After a decade at the helm, High Society marks Kevin Spacey’s last show in charge of the Old Vic. If Clarence Darrow was a – not unwarranted – gift from Spacey to himself, a much deserved lap of honour that indulged his love of great character parts and allowed the audience to wallow in the sheer magnetism of the man, then High Society is a chance to give the crowds a little sparkle and razzmatazz as he heads out the door.

In a fortuitous piece of scheduling, I headed to the Old Vic just days after seeing a Berlin & Hart musical (Face the Music) staged splendidly in a tiny theatre pub in east London. To watch both in such close proximity only reinforced the gigantic financial disparities in the theatre world. It is clearly evident on the stage, where Maria Friedman (Merrily We Roll Along) deploys pretty much every available bell and whistle to make the musical in-the-round, and also in the murky world of ticket prices – £10 for High Society, £18 for Face The Music – where corporate sponsorship enables incredible cheap tickets in the face of a steep production budget.

As you are sitting in the baking hot auditorium waiting for the second half to start, it is likely you will be thinking that even £10 seemed a little steep. The first half of High Society is a real mish-mash. It suffers from problems everywhere you look; the story takes time to get going as it labours under a endless series of characters being introduced only to be whisked off in search of a plot device. There is a real absence of decent songs and routines before the interval, whilst some of the vocal talent on display is rather uneven. The only exception is Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, a lovely little number that sees Porter’s lyrical wit matched with fun choreography and energetic performances from Jamie Parker and Katherine Pearson.

Then the lights go down, the double bass begins to play and 12 minutes later Nathan M Wright’s superbly choreographed Let’s Misbehave has transformed the evening. It is a fantastic set-piece and one of those glorious numbers that seems as if it will go on and on for the rest of the night. Just as it hits a peak, it will relax before coming back even more impressively with a new routine. This is one of few numbers where the choreography is truly at a West End standard. It even had someone tap-dancing on the top of a piano.

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Rosenstern and Guildenctanz are dead (with apologies to Mr Stoppard)

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Theatre Royal Haymarket

Booking until 20 August


(Lights Up)
ROSENSTERN: (Tosses a coin, checks the result and repeats) Heads…Heads…Heads…Heads…
GUILDENCRANTZ: (Interrupting) Does it ever feel to you like we’ve done all this before?
ROSENSTERN: How do you mean?
GUILDENCRANTZ: That we’re stuck in a rut. Going through the same things day after day.
ROSENSTERN: (Considering this) We were someone else before.
GUILDENCRANTZ: Yes but that’s history. We were boys back then.
ROSENSTERN: True. (Pause) And now we’re here?
GUILDENCRANTZ: (looking around) Alone…but at least we’re the centre of attention. It’s all about us.
ROSENSTERN:  I thought the play’s the thing?
GUILDENCRANTZ: Oh you can do anything with a play, words are flexible. Anyway people know us now; we’re stars in own right.
ROSENSTERN: We’re recognisable
GUILDENCRANTZ: indistinguishable. You’ve seen us once, you’ve seen us anywhere.
ROSENSTERN: Or everywhere.
GUILDENCRANTZ: See, we’ll fit right in, like we’ve always been there. (Pause) Are you sure we haven’t done this before.
ROSENSTERN: (Tossing a coin) Heads…
GUILDENCRANTZ: This all seems very familiar. (Enter the reviewer). Who are you? We were expecting someone else.
REVIEWER: I think there’s been a misunderstanding, I’m not an actor; I’m supposed to be reviewing the play.
GUILDENCRANTZ: No, no. This does not make any sense at all. You’re not in the script. The audience won’t stand for it.
ROSENSTERN: We don’t have to tell them do we? (Indicating to the reviewer) He can try his best.
GUILDENCRANTZ: It will be a surprise but audiences get used to anything.
REVIEWER: If it remains relevant.
GUILDENCRANTZ: (aghast) relevant. Outrageous
ROSENSTERN: Scandalous
GUILDENCRANTZ: Preposterous. Creations like this are timeless.
GUILDENCRANTZ: We are an exegesis on existentialism.
ROSENSTERN A deconstruction of determinism.
GUILDENCRANTZ: The product of a precocious talent.
ROSENSTERN: (Firmly) Two precocious talents.
REVIEWER: (Frustrated) Yes but do you have anything new to add. Is there a purpose to all this wordplay? Does it go anywhere or is it all, well, just a little bit pretentious.
GUILDENCRANTZ: Pretention? Purpose? (To Rosenstern) Have you ever felt so offended? (To read more click here)