REVIEW: Anything Goes, Crucible Theatre Then Touring ✭✭

Last Updated on 27th April 2015

Anything Goes at Crucible Theatre Sheffield Prior to National Tour

Anything Goes
Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, then national UK tour
27 December 2014
2 Stars

Ask Stephen Sondheim about Cole Porter and he will probably say, as he does in his book, Finishing The Hat:

The unique thing about Porter, though, even at his most camp, is that the lyrics are genuinely felt…One of the things that gives Porter’s lyrics fervour is that he loves the haute monde he is satirizing…every word Porter writes about (rich people) rings true. Rich people in penthouses are precisely what riveted Porter’s attention and fired his wit; he cared about them…Porter’s…weakness is a sniggering adolescent penchant for double entendres so blatant that they become single ones…That’s one of the dangers of camp, of course; it can skid from giddy to vulgar in the space of an entendre…but…Porter believes what he says, even at his most over-heated.

Now playing at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, in a revival directed by Daniel Evans, is Anything Goes, a work with a book that has had the benefit of six different writers over the years (from P.G.Wodehouse to John Weidman) but only one librettist and composer – Cole Porter – although many of the songs which appear in the current version of the show were not specifically composed for this show.

You can, no doubt, see this production’s skidmark to vulgarity from Outer Space.

This is a truly tasteless production of a piece which, in the right hands, can be an endless confection of sophisticated wit, fabulous tunes and charming hilarity. After presiding over such triumphant revivals of Oliver and My Fair Lady, expectations were high that Evans, together with Alistair David (who so cleverly and ingeniously choreographed those earlier hits), Nigel Lilley (a very talented Musical Supervisor) and Tom Brady (who did such good work on My Fair Lady) would bring home the bacon. But they seem to have shopped in Aldi and not Fortnum and Masons or even Waitrose.

How? That was the question I kept asking myself as I watched soufflé after soufflé served up as flat pancake or overdone treacle pudding. Casting is a big problem, as is the choreography, but also the overall concept, the conceit; it is just fundamentally mistaken in almost every way. Where there should be style, there is smut; where there should be grace, there is gurning; where there should be passion there is pointlessness. Anything Goes is not a pantomime; nor is it a Carry On Gang film. It is certainly chock-full of silliness and slightly dirty fun, but it only works with an excess of energy focussed on style, believable characters, romance and making seem believable the unlikeliest of plots. It doesn’t need erect penis jokes or overtly tarty characterisations – it needs finesse, assuredness, that perfect blend of farce and comedy of manners which defines it. The creatives here do not appear to understand that.

It is fortunate that Porter’s score still has such beauty, energy and warmth: age has not withered it. Brady and the small orchestra play well enough, although some tempi are far too slow and others lack the true pulse they need to shine. The production is also blessed with a gifted ensemble who can sing en masse very well indeed – absolutely the finest moments here are when the chorus is in full vocal glory. And they are fine moments indeed: There’s No Cure Like Travel, Bon Voyage and There’ll Always Be A Lady Fair. The robust, virile, male ensemble is terrific in every way, and provides the backbone to this production. Especially good were Jack Evans, Dylan Mason and Adam Rhys-Charles; Bob Harms gave the best performance of the evening as the gangster/celebrity loving Captain – great voice, sharp character and excellent sense of style.

No production of Anything Goes can hope to ascend dizzying heights without a sensational Reno Sweeney, the piping hot songstress, and a breath-taking tap routine to end Act One when the title song is belted out. Alas, this production has neither. Sweeney was an original vehicle for Ethel Merman, so the performer needs a voice that can belt with gusto; Debbie Kurup is good at many things but high, pure belting is not her forte, and both Anything Goes and Blow Gabriel Blow suffered accordingly. Reversing his usual skills, David’s choreography made the performers look like they could not perform the routines. The result was fizzy pop when it should have been dynamite.

Giving life to the chiffon thin characters and making the love songs and list songs seem sincere and jaunty is the chief challenge of the production and one beyond Kurup, Matt Rawle (whose voice was inapt for the score and whose Billy seemed part Jimmy Stewart and part wind-up toy), Zoe Rainey (her Hope had none and her pretty voice was not advantageously utilised) and Alex Young (whose Irma seemed to be in Kander & Ebb’s Cabaret rather than this show).

Going above and beyond every sensible measure of charm and comic skill needed to make the gift of a role that is Moonface Martin shimmer and shine, Hugh Sachs gave a masterclass in drop dead unfunny character turns. Bad singing and woeful timing added to a Moon overcrowded with cheese. In the first Act, Stephen Matthews seemed cut from the same cloth, his Lord Evelyn was joyless and overdone. But he came into his own in Act Two, and his Plum Blossom confession and delivery of Gypsy In My Soul showed that the right style and attitude was possible here.

Of the older cast members, Simon Rouse mostly got away with his dipsomaniac Elisha Whitney but he was not as frenzied about money as he might have been. Jane Wymark threw away the role of Evangaline Harcourt with a determination that was as wholehearted as it was frustrating. Mostly, the dancing the company was asked to do was puzzling and not the kind of dancing envisioned by the score or the romance and brio that underpins it.

Eccentric is perhaps the best word for Richard Kent’s curious “up the wall” set design. It was difficult to understand quite why this design was thought best to assist this production. Sure, there were odd gimmicks which permitted different simultaneous perspectives (from above and directly ahead) of a mainly static set but the space was cluttered and there was little colour or energy from the surrounds. The costumes did not help much; poor Zoe Rainey suffered the most in a series of unflattering and unaccountably ugly outfits.

Such is the power of Porter’s lyrics and music that even when they are ill-served, as for the most part they are here, there is still an ineffable greatness which assured some level of pleasure. The audience will tap their feet, hum along and be satisfied at some level. But nowhere near the kind of joyous dizzy heights that ought be reached. No. This was a production of Anything Goes where, so it seemed, anything goes. Or went. Alas, the title is not meant as a directorial or choreography inspiration.

Dates and venues for the National Tour of Anything Goes are listed here.

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