It is impossible to review a production at Kilworth House Theatre without taking into account the extraordinary context.
Opened in 2007 in the grounds of a luxury country house hotel, the venue is a well-appointed, beautifully designed open-air theatre nestled among the trees in a woody glade. However, although the auditorium is covered only by a vaulted, tent-like canopy and the lack of walls allows a chill breeze to blow through, the term “open-air” implies a temporariness that really doesn’t apply to this wonderful whim of the property’s owner, Celia Mackay.
With a necessarily short season limited by the weather, she has put together programmes that have so far included star circuit names such as Ken Dodd and Elkie Brooks, with a full in-house production at the heart of the schedule. And in two short years, it’s really made its mark.
This summer, the glade is jumping to the sounds of George and Ira Gershwin and the posthumously manufactured show Crazy For You, which started life almost 80 years ago as Girl Crazy. Reinvented for Broadway in 1992 with a witty new book by Ken Ludwig, it’s crammed with endlessly hummable tunes and a rollercoaster fun ride of a story about a wealthy New Yorker sent to Nevada to close a crumbling hick theatre.
Kilworth House has formed a partnership entitled To Be Productions, using the considerable talents of West End director Mitch Sebastian, and he helms this show with style and bags of energy. With a 12-piece pit band at his disposal, musical director Matthew Freeman wrings a dazzling soundscape out of the thumping score, and the entire creative team – sound, lights, set and costume – come up trumps with a production that looks every bit the professional barnstormer.
Among the huge cast, there are charming performances from the young leads, Cassidy Janson and Mark Stanford, but it’s among the character parts that the show-stealing turns lie in wait. Michael Howe is a finely comic New York impresario with a fondness for the bottle, Cameron Jack a twinklingly villainous baddie, and there’s a whole chorus line of cowboys and showgirls with enough song-and-dance talent to shake stages far more established than this one.
Celia Mackay’s stated aim is to create “a production which will send you home with a spring in your step”. Chilled bones notwithstanding, this vibrant, exciting, delightful show unquestionably fits that bill.