Review: Call Me Madam, Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Monday 3 August 2009

Call Me MadamPhil suffers from vertigo (and everyone around him suffers too) so the Whingers had never before ventured Upstairs at the Gatehouse whose unique selling proposition is that it is “officially London’s top theatre – we’re 446ft above sea level!”.

But ripping off their oxygen masks they were heartened to see that this was actually very much their kind of venue – a sign on the auditorium’s door (see below) which invited, nay almost ordered them to “Drink as much as you like”.

So from grumbling about the Gatehouse’s unreserved seating policy and it’s stupid  ticket-reservation-by-answerphone system (“we will only call you back if there is a problem”) their moods shifted instantly to exactly the right frame of mind to enjoy a Sunday matinée performance of Irving Berlin’s Call Me Madam.

How ironic that this was the very day on which the Sunday Times had published a news feature (“Mind your step: it’s a yobs’ night at the theatre”) about unruly behaviour in London Theatres. Our favourite story was the one about someone urinating next to the stage at a performance of A Little Night Music (actually entirely understandable given Trevor Nunn’s signature lack of brevity and 3 hour running time). The Whingers found it rather inspiring and are tempted to cease blogging and instead pass comment by “straining their potatoes” in the auditoriums of any future dreadful West End shows.

But there was no danger of them emptying their bladders in the Gatehouse’s auditorium despite the show starting 15 minutes late due to cast members being delayed by the Arsenal game (though why this should delay the show is beyond the Whingers’ imaginations, it’s not close to the ground and the Gatehouse has been around since 1895, long enough to know to tell their casts that Arsenal home games apparently delay people getting to Highgate) and one fifth of the orchestra failing to make it at all. No, the Whingers were thoroughly charmed by Thom Southerland‘s Madam and waited for interval before relieving themselves.

Gido Schimanski and Beverley Klein in Call Me MadamThe plot  concerns Washington party-thrower extraordinaire Sally Adams ( Beverley Klein, right), Washington’s “hostess with the mostess”, who is appointed ambassador to the very small Grand Duchy of Lichtenburg with whose foreign minister Cosmo (Gido Schimanski) she falls in love. It’s based vaguely on a true story although according to Wikipedia the Playbill for the original 1951 production dryly noted that “neither the character of Mrs. Sally Adams nor Miss Ethel Merman resemble any person living or dead.”

We have to confess to not entirely following the plot all of the time and suspect that quite a bit of tampering has taken place with the script to fit it into the confines of the venue and the production. Certainly there was no sign of the ” two elderly performers in the roles of the Grand Duke and Duchess who make their first appearance just before the end of the play” as enthused about in the very wonderful Guide To Musical Theatre. Next time this show is revived the Whingers dearly hope they are called in on a consultancy basis to cast these two roles as it sounds like their dream job.

Call Me Madam girls on telephoneBut anyway, if you’re going to get a show down from a cast 30-45 you must expect to make sacrifices although frankly this production really would have benefited from a few more senior people to compensate for the alarmingly youthful but plucky chorus whose members never managed to quite convince the Whingers that they were – inter alia – a US senator and a congressman.

Top marks to the principals: Klein is the terrific old pro you’d expect and belts out “The Hostess With The Mostes’ on the Ball”, “Can You Use Any Money Today”, “Something To Dance About” and “(I Wonder Why) You’re Just In Love” with great panache (although some of the numbers seemed not to be in her ideal key for some reason).

Schimanski makes a charming Cosmo and Chris Love and Kate Nelson are excellent as the younger lovers Kenneth and Princess Maria (“It’s A Lovely Day Today”). Nelson’s plaits could probably carry a show on their own.

Hat tipping to Drew McOnie for fitting such big choreography into such a small space, sometimes quite terrifyingly and to director Thom Southerland for injecting admirable pace, charm and humour into the proceedings. Southerland directed the excellent Annie Get Your Gun at the Union Theatre and is doing State Fair at the Finborough from tomorrow (but note that Mr Southerland is only human: even he could not refloat The Unsinkable Molly Brown)

Call Me Madam plays until Sunday 16th August.


For some reason the line “my nobility seemed four sizes too large” drew schoolboy sniggers from the Whingers’ party and they were the only ones to find innuendo in a line which came shortly afterwards comparing men to bratwurst. And we have the nerve to criticise the child-like qualities of the chorus.

Upstairs At The Gatehouse

3 Responses to “Review: Call Me Madam, Upstairs at the Gatehouse”

  1. helensmith Says:

    Did you see Psychoville? Eileen Atkins as a nurse directing a show at a psychiatric unit, waving an electrical cattle prod about with the words ‘I don’t know how Trevor Nunn does things but…’

  2. Peter Thompson Says:

    I saw this show twice last week and thought, at the first sitting, that the ensemble numbers were the best thing in it and that Flora Dawson outshone the rest of the chorus(lively as they were)for energy, grace and j de v. Imagine my delight, dear reader, to see her promoted to Princess for the second sitting. She was terrific; and everyone else (including the band and the indomitable Beverly Klein)seemed on better form too.

  3. Vindice Says:

    And the band played on ….. 4.00 performance on Sunday 9th saw the curse of the missing orchestra strike yet again. Late start without the drummer who was ‘expected any minute’ He did manage to sneak in during the show without any ironic applause (not even from Richard Baker looking unimpressed in the audience). The plot certainly makes Hello Dolly seem positively top notch but a set of charming performances and Klein a knock out

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