Friday, March 1

Anything Goes – Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

When theatre reopened in London 2021, it opened with a bang. The Barbican’s Anything Goes starring Sutton Foster and Robert Lindsay was not just a highlight of 2021, but rather a theatre highlight of the decade. With a new star cast, starring Bonnie Langford, the absolutely de-lovely production hits the spot.

Tonight’s cruise liner was crammed with as much action as a Shakespearean romantic comedy, if not more. Mistaken identity, farce and wall to wall tap dancing abound in every scene. Starlet Reno Sweeney (Kerry Ellis) is heading to New York aboard SS American, where her love Billy Crocker (Samuel Edwards) has also stowed away but is in hot pursuit of the debutante, Hope Harcourt (Nicole-Lily Baisden), who is due to be married to her PG Wodehouse-esque fiancé, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh. As Billy tries to win his lover over, Reno is dazzling the guests with her cabaret numbers so that Ol’ Moonface can go unnoticed by the captain. Oh, and Hope’s mother Evangeline (Bonnie Langford) is being chased by old love Elisha J Whitney (Clive Hayward). Not to mention the cardsharps who are dwindling third class out of their pennies. It’s all beautiful chaos.

Anything Goes may have been first performed back in 1934, but it’s packed storyline and delightful bevy of Cole Porter song numbers render it an eternal hit. This new book, by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman, keeps the charm of PG Wodehouse’s original text and gives it a 21st spice. And while this would delight with almost any cast, this tour’s line up is terrific. Few Reno Sweeny’s could croon as well as Kerry Ellis. Despite lacking the high kicks of Kathleen Marshall’s fabulous choreography found in other numbers, ‘I Get a Kick Out Of You’. Ellis’ delightful partnership with Denis Lawson’s Moonface Martin makes for a musical theatre pairing seen on few stages before. Samuel Edwards delights as love torn Billy Crocker, eliciting cries of laughter from the audience in his half-mast trouser-ed disguise. But, funnily enough, tonight’s real highlight is Carly’s Mercedes Dyer’s vocal performance as Erma in Buddie Beware. Up against greats such as Langford and Ellis, Dyer’s performance holds its own and tonight it could be the highlight of the entire show.

Tonight, two understudies stepped up to the fore. Hayward’s Whitney felt rather like his own. Bursting with larger than life comedy, Hayward had the audience in stitches with his farcical romp across the boat sans glasses. Meanwhile Eu Ji Hwang would have you believe he’s been captaining the ship from off, giving a really memorable comic performance as the boat’s bumbling pilot.

It’s not a case of sitting back and watching the 30’s unfold. To watch this production is to be a passenger on the boat. This has been achieved with Derek McLane’s fabulous set design and stunning costumes by Jon Morrell. Coloured with Hugh Vanstone’s phenomenal lighting palate, we’re taken from day, to night, to cabaret bar without so much as the batter of an eyelid. Yes, there’s stars delivering the best of their craft, but this is also a fantastic display of intelligent setting and lighting. Captaining the band is musical supervisor, Stephen Ridley who brings this fantastic score to life. A live band adds more than a certain musicality and presence that recorded tracks just don’t possess. Even without the staging and the set, hearing them alone is a treat.

Delightful. Delectable. De-lovely. Anything Goes feels like being a spectator on the world’s best cruise, martini in hand, sunglasses on. There’s no statement to be made. No comment on society. Just pure unadulterated escapism and ridiculous farce complete with spontaneous tap. Superlatives just won’t do it justice. Director Kathleen Marshall has excelled. See it now.

Anything Goes runs until Sunday 15th May,

Reviewer: Melissa Jones

Reviewed: 11th May 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★