High Society, Shaftesbury Theatre, London

Hall gives a jerry-built performance

Michael Coveney
Friday 19 July 2013 22:42

She raises her left arm, and it looks like her entire concentration is involved; for a second, anyway, before the arm gives up and droops away. She's decorative, and well fitted out in four lovely costumes, but she looks as if she is on stage to enjoy being there, not to give a performance.

And she's not even playing the heroine, the spoilt socialite Tracy Lord, as an over-age Grace Kelly; she's playing her mother, a small role last illuminated on the London stage by Julia McKenzie, a proper actress, in the Old Vic production of the play of the musical, The Philadelphia Story.

So this is like saying that Kate Moss is starring in Mother Courage (and playing the daughter) - actually, not too bad an idea; Twiggy in the lead, perhaps?

This swellegant, elegant party is a Cole Porter mish-mash using some of the 1956 film's songs, some of Cole Porter's earlier romantic and revue numbers, and the 1997 stage version by the American dramatist Arthur Kopit.

Outside in Regent's Park two years ago, Ian Talbot's production was just the summertime ticket. Inside at the Shaftesbury, badly microphoned, desperately choreographed and tinnily accompanied by a band of just six musicians, it looks a bit cheap and eager, with white trellis, neat topiary and a floating mansion - design by Paul Farnsworth - that puts you more in mind of a downmarket stand at the Ideal Home Exhibition than a Long Island retreat of swanky privilege.

Kopit's big move is to make the servants the chorus and thread the story of Tracy's thaw - the virgin goddess discovers her own heart while choosing between three men, her reformed alcoholic ex, her dull fiancé and a louche journalist - through a renewed narrative of dance, vaudeville schtick and great songs. This might be enough for some customers. Kopit has certainly arranged the plot of the renewed marriage of Tracy's parents, and the resolution of the other partnerships, more gracefully than did Richard Eyre's 1987 stage version. Eyre had Natasha Richardson as a melting ice queen and Angela Richards singing "In the Still of the Night" so you'd pay for the dawn to stay down. Katherine Kingsley is a harsh and unlovable Tracy - she and Jerry look more like sisters - and, in the Richards role, Ria Jones belts out her numbers with too obvious and brutal a brio.

Paul Robinson's Mike Connor is a bit of a sun-tanned wimp who looks better than he sings, while Graham Bickley in the Cary Grant/Bing Crosby/Kevin Spacey role of Dexter Haven brings a little true musical theatre class to bear on his "True Love" duet with the still impervious Tracy.

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