High Society

JONNY SINGER is disappointed by a potentially-excellent musical which unfortunately couldn’t bring its long-game in outdoor conditions.

CUMTS emmanuel High Society Inaudible JonnySinger Liane Grant May Week May Week Show

Emmanuel College, 21st-23rd June, 2.30pm, £6-8

Directed by Liane Grant


A beautiful day in a gorgeous section of Emma gardens in May Week, watching a musical in the sunshine. Even more fitting, a musical about the upper classes being overly decadent. What could be better?

Well, as it turned out, actually quite a lot. Unfortunately a production with such potential, and a really excellent cast, just didn’t quite work. Undoubtedly the ingredients were all there, it was just very difficult to find them.

What makes Cole Porter’s musicals so wonderful is the cleverness of the lyrics, recurring themes with slightly modified words which make you laugh throughout. The momentum drops somewhat when you can only hear every third word.

Putting on a musical is difficult enough as it is. Attempting to perform it outside, without microphones and just metres away from a road is theatrical suicide.

It was a real shame, because there were plenty of strong performances. The two leads, Tracy Lord (Victoria Rigby) and Dexter Haven (Mateo Oxley) were excellent, and mastered the art of being heard better than most.

Charlotte Reid gave an excellent portrayal of a spoiled upper class child with a bit of wit, while Neill Campbell grew into the part of Uncle Willie to give a wonderful second half performance.

The only downside was the casting of Rory Stallibrass as the humourless ‘working class’ boy  George Kittredge. Stallibrass is a strong singer and usually an excellent actor, but he is better suited to happier parts, and could scarcely keep a smile from his face, totally out of keeping with his character.

But from the very first number the problems were not with the acting. You could feel the unease in the audience as we realised (and particularly those sitting on the benches at the back) that we were not going to be able to hear most of what went on.

‘Who wants to be a millionaire’ is a fabulous song, in which every rhyme is a good one. And the first verse was wonderful, Laurie Stevens capturing the humour and the emotion. But then the song turned to the back corner of the stage, and the rest was lost.

I’m still not sure if the positioning of the ‘presents tent’ was necessary, or if the choreography which saw them gravitate towards it added anything. But what was lost, every subsequent line, was certainly too high a price to pay.

What was clearly audible was the band, which was the one of the best things about this production. Being able to see the source of the music was actually quite refreshing and really makes you realise how talented the musicians have to be. The level of doubling required in so many musicals was clear for all to view, and even if one were to question the talent levels needed to double viola and percussion, it was a revealing insight into the workings of the ‘other side’ of musical theatre.

This then, was a potential 5 star show which let itself down in its choice of outdoor location. If I keep coming back to the poor quality of sound that is only because it was not only the overwhelming flaw but indeed the overwhelming feature of the production.

I would truly love to see it put on at the ADC in the near future with a similar cast, direction, choreography and band. It could be magnificent. And you might be able to hear it.