Perfect Porter


Theatre Royal, Nottingham, Saturday 21st November, 2015


Every once in a blue moon, I have the pleasure of experiencing a slice of theatrical perfection. Opera North’s production of the Cole Porter masterpiece gets everything right. I’m wracking my brain to find a flaw – I got nothing.

Leading man Quirijn De Lang is Fred Graham, producer and star. With his matinee idol looks and sardonic humour, De Lang is a joy to behold and be-hear. Where is the Life That Late I Led? is superbly delivered in De Lang’s rich baritone.   He is matched by his female oppo, soprano Jeni Bern as Fred’s ex-wife Lilli. Bern plays with gusto, belting out I Hate Men and providing one of the show’s many, many highlights with So In Love – Porter’s marvellous pre-Adele Adele song.   The couple’s wrangles are mirrored on-stage in a play-within-the-play, a staging of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. It’s all done with brio, and a camp sensibility: Colin Richmond’s colourful costumes and set are equally effective for the off-stage and on-stage antics.

The superlative Ashley Day is Bill Calhoun, handsome and louche. Day displays a talent for visual comedy – the number with the other suitors (Callum Train and Emmanuel Kojo) is a lot of fun, and no one has shapelier legs – which Day employs for a dazzling tap dance routine in the second act. Bill’s love interest Lois is played by the remarkably talented Tiffany Graves – if anyone should be playing the lead in Funny Girl, it is this exceptional performer. Witness her Always True To You In My Fashion and agree with me.

Joseph Shovelton and John Savourin seem effortlessly funny as two gunmen, come to collect a gambling debt. Their Brush Up Your Shakespeare brings the house down.

It’s a show that revels in its theatricality. Lighting designer Ben Cracknell employs a lot of follow spots to highlight this – and to punctuate the musical numbers. The chorus is in great voice and Will Tuckett’s choreography captures period and exudes energy on what can be a very busy stage. And it’s a real treat to hear Porter’s luscious score played by a full orchestra, under the baton of a very bouncy Davie Charles Abell.

It’s romantic and funny, silly and charming, and ultimately uplifting. Opera North has played a blinder and it’s a great pity the show ends its run tonight. It deserves a much wider audience.

Director Jo Davies now faces the difficult task of following this piece of perfection with her next project. I wish her luck!


Ashley Day, Quirijn De Lang, Jeni Bern and Tiffany Graves (Photo: Alastair Muir)


About williamstafford

Novelist (Brough & Miller, sci fi, historical fantasy) Theatre critic and Actor - I can often be found walking the streets of Stratford upon Avon in the guise of the Bard! View all posts by williamstafford

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