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Anything Goes at the Barbican: A West End Review

9 September 2022

Anything Goes: A “Top” outing!

Thank goodness Anything Goes has returned to the Barbican! Having had a successful run last year, it’s back this summer for a limited period, directed by Kathleen Marshall. Although a different cast, the production is just as impressive. 

Written by Cole Porter, the 1934 musical still makes people laugh in 2022. The silly Shakespeare-esque story involves partner swaps, farcical disguises and lots and lots of tap dancing.

It follows passengers aboard the S.S. American travelling across the pond to England. There are stowaways; gangster and public enemy number 13, Moonface Martin, played by the lovable Denis Lawson, the vivacious Erma, who sleeps with every sailor she sees, reprised by Carly Mercedes Dyer after winning a WhatsOnStage award for the role, and lovesick bachelor Billy Crocker performed by Samuel Edwards, who is also reprising his 2021 role. Edwards impressively has the American twang nailed in both speech and song; no easy task.

Billy Crocker does not hitch a ride for criminal purposes, instead, he’s determined to tell debutante Hope Harcourt (Nicole-Lily Baisden) he loves her. Through dancing and ballads, he tries to win her from her posh, English fiancé Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Haydn Oakley), who Moonface helpfully offers to execute. 

What ties everything together though is Reno Sweeny, and Kerry Ellis smashes it! Her predecessor (Sutton Foster) is a hard act to follow having won a Tony award for her rendition of the sarcastic club singer in 2011, before playing her again a decade later at the Barbican. Yet Ellis is her equal with her clear tone, dancing skills and charisma. I was exhausted watching her perform the titular song (which includes ten minutes of tap dancing). 

Ellis has great chemistry with Lawson, highlighted in ‘Friendship’. Throughout the song they attempt to outdo each other, commanding the stage spotlights to follow them and breaking the fourth wall with eyerolls and huffs, before agreeing they need to return to singing for the audience’s sake. An oversized vaudeville hook humorously pulls the pair offstage. Similarly, the competitive number ‘You’re the Top’ shows Reno and Billy vying to give the best compliments to one another; my favourites include ‘you’re broccoli’ and ‘you're Pepsodent’ (an American brand of toothpaste).

Another hit number is ‘Blow Gabriel Blow’. Reno asks her audience to confess their sins and Lord Evelyn offers a hilarious contribution before the show girls burst into song. The ensemble spin around the stage in perfect synchronicity and utilise every inch of the ship’s set. The routine was so well-received by the excited audience that the applause lasted several minutes. Reportedly in some performances spectators have even given a standing ovation, unusual for half-way through a show.

Yet, the upbeat and grandiose numbers made the sincere and sad songs feel flat. I was less appreciative of the solos, such as ‘Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye’ sung by Hope. Baisden has an exceptionally pretty voice but struggled to hit the high notes. This, combined with being stationary on the stairs for the entire song, causes the number to be anticlimactic. Of course not every song can be a show-stopper, but minimal staging would go a long way.

Additionally, it felt like something was missing. I had hoped for a song between Yale man Elisha J. Whitney (Simon Callow) and Hope’s mother, Evangeline Harcourt (Bonnie Langford). This way their romance could’ve been amplified.

I cried with laughter watching Lord Evelyn release the gypsy within him. Oakley’s over exaggerated flamenco-style dancing is side-splittingly funny, particularly when he uses his dressing gown as a cape. An equally hilarious moment is Erma’s ‘Buddie Beware’. Her whiny singing and squeals (whilst refuting the several marriage proposals from sailors) emphasises her comic ability.

Erma’s criminal partner Moonface makes quite the entrance, first emerging from a dorade box. We just know that this frivolous character will be unforgettable. From dramatically surrendering whenever he believes he’s been caught, “Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot’, to duetting with an imaginary bird in ‘Be Like the Blue Bird’, Lawson shines on stage.

The set was designed by Derek McLane. At the beginning of the show, you see a basic bar which then opens up to reveal a multi-decked ship. It’s the subtleties of the production that make it special - the sky changing colour to reflect the character’s mood and the flashing portholes during songs add excitement.

The quality of the production is not just exhibited from the set, but the costumes too. Designed by Jon Morrell, they are spectacular. The glitzy dresses sparkle and reflect the stage lights, furs look luxurious and the men look dapper in their evening suits; which makes it even more hilarious when Billy is wearing a sailor costume two sizes too small (another failed disguise). 

It’s funny how such an old musical can still impress a crowd. It’s energetic and uplifting, timeless in its appeal. You will be humming the tunes all the way home, and may even consider taking up tap dancing lessons.