Tag Archives: Jerome van den Berghe

High Society


The Mill at Sonning

HIGH SOCIETY at The Mill at Sonning


“An elegant production. A swell party indeed. What a swellegant, elegant party this is!”

There’s a bit of a bluesy, Southern vibe about the Mill at Sonning’s “High Society”; as though we’re on the banks of the Mississippi rather than Long Island’s North Shore. Yet at the same time there’s a feel-good fifties swing that flits between the New York plaza suites and a high school prom reunion. For the senses this is an intoxicating mix that makes you feel as lightheaded as the bubbles in the constantly flowing champagne onstage. It takes a little while, however, for it to find its flavour.

The musical draws from the 1939 play ‘A Philadelphia Story’ and the 1956 musical film ‘High Society’. The original Cole Porter songs are all there, with others from his catalogue thrown into the mix for the stage version, slotting into the narrative with varying degrees of success. A narrative that is, on the surface, flimsy, flirtatious and fun. There is some underlying social commentary about class, but overall, it is a backdrop to the music, and it relies on the delivery and the snappy dialogue. Joe Pitcher’s revival focuses on the razzmatazz with glitzy performances from the lead players, ensemble and musicians alike.

It is the summer of 1958, an evening aglow with a warm setting sun. Preparations are underway for the wedding of society-divorcee Tracy Lord (Victoria Serra) and George Kitteridge (Will Richardson). Tracy’s first husband, Dexter Haven (Matt Blaker), gate-crashes events with predictable results as he tries to win back the affections of his first wife. Meanwhile a tabloid newspaper possesses embarrassing information about Tracy’s wayward father and has coerced the family into allowing reporter Mike Conner (Matthew Jeans) and photographer Liz Imbrie (Laura Tyrer) to cover the nuptials. Thus begins a tangled web of romances and revelations.

“the gorgeous splashes of colour from Natalie Titchener’s sumptuous costumes wash across the stage in time to Jaye Elster’s dazzling choreography”

Pitcher’s immersive staging allows the audience to feel like they are guests at the party, the auditorium being an extension to the sumptuous drawing room where most of the action takes place. Chris Whybrow’s sound design evokes the festivities spilling outside; to the gardens, the pool and down to the moonlit beach where Dexter’s yacht is moored. The band wander into and out of view, while the gorgeous splashes of colour from Natalie Titchener’s sumptuous costumes wash across the stage in time to Jaye Elster’s dazzling choreography. But when the music pauses, for the most part the dialogue lacks the quick-fire lightness of touch that Arthur Kopit’s book requires, leaving the lines to be dragged back by an earnestness that dims the twinkle in these characters’ eyes. There are exceptions. Victoria Serra is quite a force to be reckoned with as Tracy Lord; sometimes angry, often drunk and always playful. Katlo, in her professional debut, is a pure bundle of joy as Lord’s little sister Dinah, and a name to watch out for. When the tabloid hacks waft in to ruffle a few feathers, we get a real sense of the fifties film’s original showmanship and delivery. Jeans’ smooth-talking, all-knowing journalist melts hearts left right and centre while, despite his dubious occupation, his own heart nobly aims Cupid’s arrow away from himself to let ‘true love’ blossom in the correct place.

In fact, none of the performers fail to melt our hearts during the musical numbers. The ensemble harmonies are exquisite, while the solo moments scorch as they weave seamlessly between the smouldering ballads and the flaming Latin passion that fires Cole Porter’s songs, courtesy of Jerome Van Den Berghe’s arrangements. A brave approach, but fans of Cole Porter will not be disappointed. as each cast member take their turn to lend their beautiful vocals.

“High Society”, although not particularly festive, is a Christmas treat that you can’t afford to miss. An elegant production. A swell party indeed. What a swellegant, elegant party this is!


HIGH SOCIETY at The Mill at Sonning

Reviewed on 9th December 2023

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Andreas Lambis



Previously reviewed at this venue:

It’s Her Turn Now | ★★★ | October 2023
Gypsy | ★★★★★ | June 2023
Top Hat | ★★★★ | November 2022
Barefoot in the Park | ★★★★ | July 2022

High Society

High Society

Click here to see our Recommended Shows page


I Wish my Life Were Like a Musical – 5 Stars


I Wish my Life Were Like a Musical

Live at Zedel

Reviewed – 15th August 2018


“impeccable vocal agility, faultlessly-measured interpretation and just enough audience engagement”


Musical theatre has long been a defining part of West End nightlife. Shows of all genres come and go – classics, new creations, film adaptations and jukebox musicals – but always with the glossy, brightly-lit image of the actors, singers and dancers and the glamorous lives they seem to live. Alexander S. Bermange’s revue ‘I Wish My Life Were Like A Musical’ is an antidote to this glittering, colourful illusion. His inventive, comic songs with their witty lyrics take us backstage through the trials and tribulations of starting out, the bitter sweetness of working on stage and the adrenalin and emotion which make it all worthwhile.

Cosily hidden on its lower floor, Brasserie Zedel offers us an intimate, cabaret-bar venue for this peep into the personal reality of these performers. We sit in the dimly-lit, carmine-coloured glow; Bermange takes his place at the piano; the singers appear and make their way round the tables, setting a satirical scene and kicking off the evening with ‘The Opening Number’, cleverly concocted from well-known opening numbers of shows.

During the songs that follow we are delighted and dazzled by four impressive voices, each distinctive but blending beautifully together. Madalena Alberto and Suzie Mathers stun us with power and sensitivity, Cedric Neal’s smooth tones take some surprising technical turns and we are charmed by Lucas Rush’s lyrical expression. With impeccable vocal agility, faultlessly-measured interpretation and just enough audience engagement, they tell of the precarious career path with ‘Audition’, ‘Guest Spot’ and ‘The Diva’s in the House’, as well as anecdotal tales such as ‘The Key Problems’, ‘The Kiss’ and ‘When a Fan Loves a Woman’. They shape scenarios and characters to describe the obsessive nature of performers with their remedies and routines, the hard work behind the scenes, awkward moments, pleasant surprises and the ultimate magical feeling.

Derek Bond’s direction of these four talented and experienced artists and Bermange’s original insight into the world of showbiz make this classy pastiche a welcome alternative to the blockbuster blowout.


Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington

Photography by Danny Kaan


I Wish my Life Were Like a Musical

Live at Zedel until 26th August


Previously reviewed at this venue
Liza Pulman Sings Streisand | ★★★★ | March 2018
The Clementine Show | ★★★★ | July 2018


Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com