Flying too high, in the sky, with some guy, is my idea of nothing to do…
– Cole Porter
So, er, is that it, then? Covid, lockdown, closures, stay home? Forget it. Back to normal? It seems unreal.
I must confess that, back in March 2020, I felt I might never sit in a full theatre again. We had no idea when or how such a forbidden impossibility would recur. This wasn’t just a pause; it looked set to be a long-term upheaval to the way human activity was organised.
And yet there – last week – I was, in a theatre stowed to the gunwales. The naval analogy is appropriate, given what was on stage.
The Barbican Centre in London (brutalist architecture is never nice, imho) has a spacious, comfortable theatre inside, even with every one of its 1162 seats occupied. Most people wore face-masks throughout the two-and-a-half-hour extravaganza.
You’re the top…
You’re the National Gallery
You’re Garbo’s salary
It’s hard to imagine a better show to emerge from the Covid waves than Anything Goes. Originally composed by Cole Porter in post-depression America, it’s a high-octane all-singin’, dancin’ and laughin’ joyous, escapist spectacle.
The verse I’ve started seems to me
The tin pan thesis of melody,
It’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s de-lovely!
This dazzling, fizzing entertainment felt more infectious than the Delta variant. Based on a Broadway version of 10 years ago, it imported the star of that production, Sutton Foster. She’s amazing in the main role, Reno Sweeney, as she taps, sings, mugs and hoofs brilliantly, supported by veterans like Gary Wilmot, Felicity Kendal and Robert Lindsay and a chorus of stunning dancers.
The title number, which closes the first half, is a full-on, knock-out, drag-down, spine-tingling slice of pure Broadway magic. I haven’t seen such tap-dancing since watching Fred Astaire movies or Will Gaines at the Fringe years ago.
If they ever cook your goose
Turn me loose
If they ever put a bullet through your brain
If you think theatre is easy, try these routines 8 times a week. Could you dance like this until you’re Googie Withers? (Or Ethel Merman who played the role in the original 1934 Broadway version.) I felt I was still watching the Olympics. Joe Wickes would wilt.
I’ve been a sinner, I’ve been a scamp,
But now I’m willin’ to trim my lamp,
So blow, Gabriel, blow!
I loved every minute of this exquisite piece of froth (P.G. Wodehouse had a hand in the book), set on the pristine, camp decks of the SS Americana, packed with the craziest galere of passengers and crew.
And those mind-boggling lyrics, those indelible numbers – I get a kick out of you; You’re the top; Friendship; It’s de-lovely; You’d be so easy to love; Blow, Gabriel, blow!
And then, out into the crowded foyer, cafes and toilets, we flooded, like Corona was just a beer you’d order from the bar.
Just weeks ago, we were ordered to stay home and see no more than a handful of our nearest and dearest – it feels strange that such crowds are starting to be the norm again.
Anything Goes was, in fact, the second time I was in a theatre in 18 months. The first was last month to see, in the Scottish Opera Car Park venue, the Citizens’ fabulous Comedy of Errors.
No gunwales stowed on that occasion. It was all socially distanced and out-of-doors. I was grateful for the tented roof because it kept out the sultry Glasgow sunshine!
The show was like a breath of fresh – and funny – air, the perfect tonic to lockdown, isolation and darkened theatres.
Shakespeare, the magpie, nicked the plot from old Roman playwright Plautus. It’s full of classic theatrical devices, spinning perpetually on mistaken identity: two sets of identical twins, ignorant of each other’s existence.
How lovely to be back in a theatre, enjoying all the physical and verbal harum-scarum. The 7-strong cast dashed up and down the staircases of ScotOp’s Falstaff set, twisting audience laughter from the bewildered characters’ panicked exchanges.
As with Moliere, Goldoni, Feydeau, Orton et al, the greatest moment of such farce comes when the truth is revealed to all. How best to show the real identities? Mirrors? Dummies? Other actors with backs to the audience?
The only other version I’ve seen had four actors as the twins. But this 90-minutes-straight-through production did the four twins’ set-up with just two people and an incredible lightness of touch so that the denouement – a swift flick and an empty hat – was breath-taking.
Next stop, Edinburgh. It’s good to be back. For now!