The Mill on Sonning
5 Stars *****
One of the wonders of the world is how the Mill on Sonning manages to produce such stunning, full-scale lavish dance musicals on a relatively tiny stage. I last visited the Mill 2 years ago, 3 months before lockdown, and marvelled at their wonderful production of Singing in the Rain. They have again chosen a classic MGM Musical for their Christmas show, surpassing expectations once more with a simply glorious production of the much-loved classic musical Top Hat.
Jack Butterworth is perfectly cast as Broadway sensation Jerry Travers who dances his way across Europe to win the heart of society girl Dale Tremont. Butterworth is the perfect leading man. As Bobby van Husen in the Menier’s production of The Boyfriend his style and charisma was evident, and as Travers his elegant seemingly effortless dancing and singing is glorious! Fred Astaire would be proud! Billie Kay as Dale Tremont is gorgeous. A beautiful dancer with a lovely voice, the chemistry between the two of them is evident. Natalie Titchener’s gorgeous costumes ensured Kay (and everyone else) looked fabulous throughout.
Paul Kemble as hapless but rich Horace Hardwick and Tiffany Graves as his gold-digging wife Madge Hardwick are hilarious and excellent. Two experienced comedy actors, they do not waste a single line, look, or pause. Entertaining moments abound without going completely over the top! Graves also did a wonderful soprano soubrette parody in the Act One finale. You have to be a soprano to fully appreciate the magic and nuance of what she was doing ~ very funny! Kemble was such an enjoyable watch! His hapless husband engaging, keeping the audience on his side throughout, fully embracing the comedy within the script with his excellent sidekick valet Bates, brilliantly played by Brendan Cull whocreated some standalone laugh-out-loud moments drawing on various characters in his life such as his Welsh maiden aunt, his Russian uncle, and an hilarious Scottish cousin. Yet more comedy in a fantastic performance by Delme Thomas as Italian fashion designer Giovanni Beddini. High Farce was demanded and his strip off during his solo song at the end of Act 2, delivered.
Director Jonathan O’Boyle has assembled a perfect cast which wonderfully includes 2 new young graduates. Charlie Booker in particular deserves mention for great character work, in particular, his hilarious homage to The Dresser!. Every ensemble member makes the most of their numerous cameos and one-liners, as well as looking so wonderfully cohesively as an ensemble! Super impressive, nuanced work from Joel Baylis, Natalie Bennyworth, Charlie Booker, Charlotte Coggin, Jinny Gould, Alex Harrison, Connor Hughes and Meg Power.
O’Boyle’s production is elegant, fluid, detailed, precise and very classy. What is so interesting and commendable about this production is how even in moments of high farce (and there are many!) it still remains elegant, and nuanced, even when the gags are huge and the scenario completely unbelievable! Basically, the scenario throughout is ludicrous, but still glorious! Kudos to O’Boyle for drawing out these great performances which so often descend into cringeworthy slapstick in lesser calibre productions. I really loved the elegance of everything throughout, which still enabled high comedy with the absurdity of identity confusion. 1930s and 40s musicals have pretty daft plots and the librettos are not ‘deep’ so they don’t always hold their own against other musicals. It is commendable that in this wonderful production dance, singing and acting all balance brilliantly.
The outstanding creative team have clearly spent many hours working out much intricate detail for both performers and staging. The stunning set design by Jason Denvir enhances everything with simple but oh so precise set changes to perfection, using relatively few pieces for maximum effect in a single space. The beautiful art deco set transforms seamlessly from a hotel foyer to several bedrooms, a flower shop to a carriage ride in Central Park, a rickety aircraft to Venice. You barely even notice, so seamless are the transitions, with every cast member remaining absolutely in character while this magic is executed before our very eyes. Nic Farman’s Lighting Design enhancing Denvir’s gorgeous set.
Ashley Nottingham’s choreography is simply sensational! You don’t usually see great storytelling in tap dancing yet every single number advances the plot ~ Imagine! Fabulousity! Characters interact and move scenery and props while tap dancing and the story-telling continues. Absolute genius and utterly captivating. Nottingham’s intricate and elegant choreography enables every cast member to look fabulous, at ease, able to enhance every character they are playing.
The 3-piece band: Joe Atkin-Reeves, Callum White and Musical Director Chris Poon, sounded lush playing Francis Goodhand’s wonderful orchestral arrangements with Chris Whybrow’s Sound Design creating the perfect balance between band and voice.
The other very wonderful thing about The Mill on Sonning is that most performance tickets include a very generous, delicious and great value 2 course meal before the show, plus coffee/tea, car parking and of course the show itself. A real treat!
Top Hat, first seen as film in 1935, brings the glamour of Hollywood’s golden age and the magic of the world-famous dance partnership of Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers to the stage, though not until 2011. The adaptation works magnificently. With an uplifting and entertaining script, Top Hat celebrates 1930s song, style and romance. Underpinning every scene are Irving Berlin’s glorious songs including; Puttin’ on the Ritz’, ‘Cheek to Cheek’, ‘Isn’t This A Lovely Day’, and of course, ‘Top Hat, White Tie & Tails’.
If you’ve never been to the Mill on Sonning now is the time to grab yourself a ticket! If you’ve been before, definitely grab yourself a ticket because it exceeds expectations! Top quality production values with a stellar 14 strong cast worthy of the West End, supported by fantastic musicianship and musicians. Would be wonderful to see this transfer! But right now as the nights gets darker and colder it feels very much like sitting down to watch a fabulous musical after Christmas lunch ~ warm and enveloping ~ and absolutely Sensational!
Reviewed by Catherine Françoise
Mozart to Musicals
Reviewed Friday 22nd October 2021 2hrs 30mins including interval
TOP HAT is running until the 8th January 2022
Production Photography by Andrea Lambis
Photo Credit: Andrea Lambis
The Mill at Sonning prides itself on offering customers a unique Dinner-Theatre experience. Every ticket at The Mill includes a delicious home-cooked pre-show two-course meal.
The riverside restaurant, which overlooks the beautiful river Thames, has recently been refurbished and is now the perfect place to indulge before a show.
The first main course is served buffet style before our friendly team of waiters and waitresses help you to your table and take your dessert and drink orders.
From the last week of November until Boxing Day we will have a Christmas Menu.
From Boxing Day onwards we will return to the previous Menu.
THE MILL AT SONNING
There has been a mill at Sonning for many centuries. In the Domesday Book of 1086 three mills at ‘Sonninges and Berrochescire’ are
mentioned. In the 1600s the rents for the mill went to the Royal Revenue.
During the Civil War when Cromwell had his headquarters in London and King Charles had his in Oxford, the troops met in the middle –
Reading. It was Sonning which supplied the flour for the besieged garrison in the town. The site of the earliest Sonning mill could very well have been in a different place. Wooden buildings had a habit of burning down. The current one dates back to the 18th century but the main parts of the present theatre building are from around 1890. It was owned then by the Witherington family who added the top two storeys and the larger waterwheels for more power to drive the machinery. Around 1898 they put in a steam engine to supplement the water power.
The Phillimore family took over the mill in 1913 but they still traded under the name of C.H. Witherington and Sons Ltd. They remodelled the inside of the mill the following year. Up until 1950 the mill had its own fleet of barges which brought wheat from London right up to its door. In 1962, when the business was taken over by Associated British Foods Ltd., they remodelled yet again and introduced electric engines although the main source of power was still produced by the wheels.
When the mill closed in 1969, it was one of the last flour mills on the Thames driven by wheels. The new port mill at Tilbury had opened and Sonning, being much smaller could not compete economically. Also, one of Sonning’s major customers, Huntley and Palmers, stopped
making biscuits in Reading.
The mill remained empty until 1977. It was then that Tim and Eileen Richards, who had a great love of theatre, found the derelict building and decided to convert it into The Mill as it is today. Tim invited his brother Frank to join them and the transformation took four years to complete. THE MILL AT SONNING DINNER THEATRE opened on July 22nd 1982.
Sadly Frank Richards died in 1994, Tim Richards in 2002 and Eileen Richards in 2015. Her daughter Sally is now Managing Director of The Mill which continues to go from strength to strength thanks to its ever loyal staff and audience, having produced an abundance of plays and musicals.
In 1984 The Mill at Sonning was given a conservation award by The Times newspaper and The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors for the design, restoration and conversion of the derelict mill into a dinner theatre.
It was named Most Welcoming Theatre by the Theatre Managers Association for 2016, 2017 and 2018.
Music & Lyrics by Irving Berlin
Based on RKO’s Motion Picture
Book by Matthew White & Howard Jacques
The Mill at Sonning Theatre
Box Office: 0118 969 8000
16 October, 2021 – 8 January, 2022
There are two national press nights on Thursday 21 October and Friday 22 October (no embargo)
Evening shows Tue – Sat
Sat matinees every week
Sun matinees from 24 Oct
Sun evenings from 12 – 26 Dec
Extra matinees on Wed 22 Dec, Thurs 23 Dec,
Thurs 30 Dec 2021
No shows on 24, 25, 27, 28 Dec 2021
Tickets: from £61.50
FOR MATINEE PERFORMANCES:
Restaurant open and serving lunch from 12.15pm – 2pm
Performance starts 2.15pm
FOR EVENING PERFORMANCES
Restaurant open and serving dinner from 6.15pm – 8pm
Performance starts 8.15pm