Theatre review: Anything Goes, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Full of fine songs and breathtaking dance numbers, Kathleen Marshall exhilarating staging of Anything Goes offers audiences an evening of blissful escapism in tough times, writes Joyce McMillan

Kerry Ellis and Denis Lawson in Anything Goes PIC: Marc Brenner
Kerry Ellis and Denis Lawson in Anything Goes PIC: Marc Brenner

Anything Goes, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh ****

First seen at the Barbican in London last summer, Kathleen Marshall’s exhilarating staging of the 1934 Cole Porter musical Anything Goes has become an iconic British stage show of the post-lockdown era; and it’s not difficult to see why, as it takes the Festival Theatre by storm this week.

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Bright, brilliant and utterly carefree, Anything Goes is a musical full of fine songs and breathtaking dance numbers, but also well known for the lightweight silliness of its plot, first devised by Guy Bolton and PG Wodehouse; it therefore offers audiences an evening of blissful escapism in tough times, along with a truly dazzling display of theatrical skill and talent.

Set on a transatlantic ocean liner, Anything Goes tells the tale of young Billy Crocker, assistant to gruff elderly millionaire Elisha Whitney. Billy discovers that the girl he loves is travelling on the the same ship to Europe as his boss, and therefore stows away, in an effort to dissuade her from marrying the titled English fiancé lined up for her by her mother.

Billy is helped along the path to true love by minor gangster Moonface Martin – brought to life in bravura style by Scotland’s own Denis Lawson – and lovely cabaret singer Reno Sweeney, played with show-stopping brilliance and glamour by Kerry Ellis; and with Bonnie Langford cutting a dash as the heroine’s mother Evangeline, the show was well able to survive the absence from the stage, on its first night in Edinburgh, of co-star Simon Callow as Whitney, replaced with flair by understudy Clive Hayward.

The best of Anything Goes comes in the first half, which features classic songs ranging from I Get A Kick Out Of You to You’re The Top, and ends with a truly stunning all-tap-dancing version of the title song, delivered with astonishing verve by a cast of almost 40, and by Mark Aspinall’s superb 16-piece orchestra in the pit. That single dazzling celebration of the joy of live performance is almost worth the ticket price in itself; and it’s not the only glorious moment in a daft and delicious show, that leaves both cast and audience overwhelmingly glad to be alive.

Until 15 May