Top Hat. Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin. Book by Howard Jacques and Matthew White. Based on the RKO film. The Mill at Sonning, Reading to 30 December 2022. 4 ****. William Russell

The Mill at Sonning is in a class of its own when it comes to dinner theatre and this revival of last year’s Christmas musical with a new leading man among aome other cast members sparkles merrily yet again. The first act, in which most of the tap dancing takes place, goes along at breakneck speed with Johnny Labey, immaculate in what you would expect, as Jerry Travers, the Broadway star visiting London not only tapping up a storm but doing so displaying loads of charm. Act two, when the incredibly silly plot about mistaken identity starts, however does sag. The performances are fine but one just wishes Jerry Travers would get a move on and explain to Dale Tremont, nicely danced and sung by Billie Kay in spite of getting quite the most hideous version of Ginger Rogers’ famous moulting feather dress to wear, just who he is.

They are to be honest not ideally partnered as she is just that little bit taller than he, and she also gets lumbered with the show’s worst song for her big number. Not everything Irving Berlin wrote was fabulous and not all the songs here were included in the film. The tendency when transforming a film musical to the stage is to stuff it with extra songs and sometimes this can go a mite too far. However the show has a lovely set, the chorus have been drilled to perfection and each members get lots of individual chances to shine even if they are landed with an irrelevant opening number to Act Two. The costumes, that feather gown apart, are lavish, the small band performs miracles of big band sound from somewhere out of sight very well, Paul Kemble as Jerry’s lecherous employer Horace Hardwick bumbles nicely while Julia J Nagle as his wife Madge and Dale’s friend does hard boiled matron to the manner born.

I have given it four stars because it was perfect fare for the audience the Mill attracts but that sagging second half – somehow director Jonathon O’Boyle needs to get things to move more briskly – means it really is a three star affair. Top Hat the musical runs for well over two and a half hours including the interval whereas the film only lasted one hour and 50 minutes. But as a day out with lunch or dinner plus a show like this it is a bargain impossible to beat. And there are lots of top hats in sight on stage as well as black ties and tails.

Madge: Julia J Nagle.

Dale Tremont: Billie-Kay.

Horace Hardwicke: PaulKemble.

JerrY Travers: Jonny Labey.

Beddini: Andy Rees.

All other parts: Hannah Amin; Joe Boyle; Brendan Cull;George Deller; Nathan Elwick: Gabriela Gregorian; Leah Harris; Greta McKinnon.

Director: Jonathan O’Boyle.

Choreographer: Ashley Nottingham.

Set Designer: Jason Denvin.

Costume Designer: Natalie Titchener.

Sound Designer: Chris Whybrow.

Lighting Designer: Nic Farhan.

Musical Director: Francis Goodhand.

Production Photographs: Andreas Lambas.

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