Simon Callow

Anything Goes

11/05/22

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Until tonight, I’m only aware of Anything Goes as the ‘rubbish’ musical that drama teacher Mr G bins off when he’s left in charge of the school play in Summer Heights High – in order to replace it with a highly questionable self-penned piece (Mr G is not a reliable barometer). Of course, I have gleaned a few clues from the poster (definitely nautical) and from Bonnie Langford’s billing (all-singing, all-dancing), although Simon Callow’s presence is more of a puzzle. And, sadly, Simon Callow isn’t present tonight, so I never get to solve that particular enigma. Still, his understudy, Clive Heyward, puts in an excellent turn as boozy gazillionaire Elisha Whitney, truly owning the role.

Anything Goes, it turns out, is exactly the sort of old-fashioned glitz-and-glamour musical I like the best, with lots of big, bold choreography, and a galumphing Cole Porter score. Of course, the story is nonsensical and ridiculously contrived, but it hardly matters: the plot is just a vehicle for the performances.

Reno Sweeney (Kerry Ellis) is a nightclub singer/evangelist, booked to entertain passengers on luxury ocean liner, the SS American. She is infatuated with Whitney’s assistant, Billy (Samuel Edwards), but he’s hopelessly in love with debutante Hope (Nicole-Lily Baisden). Hope loves him too, but she’s betrothed to bumbling English toff, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (played by the aptly named Haydn Oakley, presumably no relation). Hope’s mother, Evangeline Harcourt (Langford), won’t allow her to call off the engagement, because Evelyn is rich, and the Harcourts are on their uppers. Throw in a couple of gangsters called Moonface and Erma (Denis Lawson and Carly Mercedes Dyer), put ’em all on the ship, and let the mayhem begin…

Reno is a demanding role, but Ellis is a prime example of a ‘triple threat’ – not only imbuing the evangelist with spark and charm, but also showcasing her impressive singing voice – all while hoofing it up with the best of them in some very peppy dance routines. She’s perfectly cast. Oakley is also delightfully amiable as Evelyn, effortlessly winning our sympathy. Co-book-writer PG Wodehouse’s imprint is all over this character, and Oakley makes the most of the opportunity to Bertie Wooster his way through the tale. Mercedes Dyer is another standout, dazzling both ship’s crew and audience alike with her sassy attitude.

The set (by Derek McClane) is pretty awe-inspiring, with a joyful nautical aesthetic and a real sense of scale: the ship feels vast and imposing.

But really, this is all about the big numbers, and director-choreographer Kathleen Marshall has pulled out all the stops. The ensemble cast is huge, and there is a palpable sense of a busy ocean liner, bursting with energy. It’s an unabashed celebration of theatricality, and I am absolutely spellbound by the extended version of the title song that ends the first act: the tap dancing is sublime. The second act quickly leads to another high, the fabulous Blow, Gabriel, Blow: it’s a real spectacle.

There’s nothing deep and meaningful to ponder here – except perhaps the strange nature of what constitutes “celebrity” – but that’s really not the point. If you’re after a bit of pure distraction, with some effortlessly glorious song and dance, then Anything Goes certainly fits the bill. Don’t listen to Mr G!

4.8 stars

Susan Singfield

Mindhorn

05/05/17

Here’s a bit of an oddity – a movie shot on the Isle of Man, that isn’t pretending to be Scotland or Ireland or Monte Carlo, but actually is, of all things, the Isle of Man. That’s because the location was the regular haunt of fictional 80s cop, Mindhorn (think a cross between Bergerac and the Six Million Dollar Man and you’re pretty much there). But time has moved on and actor Richard Thorncroft (Julian Baratt) has lost his hair, developed a beergut and is finding it increasingly difficult to land decent acting work, reduced now to advertising corsets and support stockings. This is doubly annoying considering his old co-star, Peter Eastman (Steve Coogan) has managed to string out his spin-off series, Windjammer for eight successful seasons and still lives on the island in unabashed luxury.

Thorncroft thinks he sees an opportunity to revitalise his own career, when a suspected serial killer, who calls himself ‘The Kestrel’ (Russell Tovey) announces to the police that he will talk to only one person – Mindhorn himself. Thorncroft heads back to his old stamping ground and begins to reconnect with people from his past – not least, his regular love interest on the series, Patricia Deville (Essie Davies) who now lives with Thorncroft’s old stunt stand in, Clive (Simon Farnaby). But as the events unfold, the former star is drawn into a bit of amateur sleuthing – and it becomes apparent that things may not be exactly what they seem…

Mindhorn may not be big on belly laughs, but it’s a decent comedy thriller with an appealing central premise and it’s shot through with a genuine sense of pathos. Thorncroft’s desperate need to rekindle his former star power verges on desperation only leads him, inevitably into deeper humiliation. The film boasts a starry cast, including Andrea Riseborough, Simon Callow, Harriet Walter and (in an uncredited cameo) Kenneth Branagh, who enjoys one of the film’s most outrageous scenes. Barrett makes a convincing transition to leading man and Essie Davies is also terrific as Mindhorn’s lost love. It’s clear from the outset that the two of them have some unfinished business.

So yes, enjoyably silly stuff. Make sure you stay till the end of the credits for a showing of Mindhorn’s wonderfully naff power ballad, You Can’t Handcuff the Wind, the dreadful lyrics of which may just be worth the price of admission alone.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney