“Thornhill and Hoskins are, frankly, a delight in this wonderful 5 star production!”

This was my first visit to the Mill, but it definitely won’t be the last. What a lovely venue! Such a pretty spot, and a really nice performance space. Going with 5 friends, it made a really lovely experience to eat beforehand, and that was also a really pleasant stress free experience, with the main courses being served buffet style, and some really delicious food.

And what of the show? 

Gypsy was written by Arthur Laurents, Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim, and premiered in 1959.  It has been revived many times and become a well loved classic. It is based on the childhood and upbringing of Gypsy Rose Lee, and her mother, Rose Hovick, or Mama Rose, who was determined to make one of her two daughters the star she had never managed to be. 

The set was simple, but a really great depiction of 1920’s and 1930’s vaudeville, changed by the cast from backstage, to stage, to hotel rooms and so on, with good use of lighting for each. It started with a largely empty stage, with some large packing cases, from which, as the beautiful Jule Styne overture was playing, Young Louise appeared. Other characters joined her on stage in a beautifully choreographed dance which really set the scene for what was to follow. 

The action starts with Baby June (who was later to become the movie star June Havoc) and Young Louise being taken from audition to audition by Mama Rose, along with various other children and their pushy mothers.

Director and choreographer Joseph Pitcher cleverly used the entire theatre and auditorium to great affect to ensure that the audience, full from our lovely food, felt truly immersed in this vaudeville world. The iconic moment when we first hear from Rose, with the now famous line “sing out Louise!” from the aisle next to us was one such example, but there were many other such examples. It was a really good use of the space.

The costumes by Natalie Titchener were also just perfect. Rose always looking elegant but just a little tatty around the edges, June looking precocious, and Louise looking like the poor relation, literally, until her eventual blossoming and butterfly moment at the end, when frankly, she looked utterly stunning.

This was also a partial actor-musician production. So there was a small band led by MD Francis Goodhand, but also many of the cast played a variety of instruments on stage, but not constantly. I love an actor-musician show but I know not everyone does, and this was a lovely way of combining the two genres, and because of the subject matter, at no time did this jar. 

The young child actors were all superb. I was particularly impressed by young George Clarke’s facial expressions and charisma, but they were all very talented. The two young ladies I saw playing both Baby June (Mia Burton) and Young Louise (Aimee Brain) were amazingly talented. We were also delighted by Chowsie, played by Rosie…a complete scene stealer…there is a reason they say never work with children or animals!

The cast were all superb. The ensemble were very tight, and all had well developed characterisations for the various parts they played. 

Maria Tavolieri played the precocious, yet increasingly frustrated June really well so that when she eventually leaves to independently follow her own dream, it comes as no surprise.

Daniel Crowder, was also perfectly cast as the put upon, and eventually rejected Herbie. He really wanted Rose to settle down to normal married life, but it was never going to be. 

The trio of burlesque strippers enter in the second half with a bang. Laura Tyrer, Susannah Van Den Berg, and Natalie Winsor play Tessie, Mazeppa and Electra with so much humour, and tons of character, and their “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” is a joy!

You can’t have a good Gypsy without two strong performances from Rose and Louise. And we certainly had that here. 

Evelyn Hoskins’ Louise was throughout magnetic. You totally felt her hurt, and confusion, at always being in her sister’s shadows, and knew that this was a world she really didn’t want to be in. And when the family were left by June’s departure, and Mama Rose sought to push Louise centre stage, the portrayal of fear, nerves, and reluctance, and yet the futility of resisting her mother’s demands, were so well portrayed by Evelyn Hoskins. The acting that she gave in just her eyes alone was worth the ticket price! And all those emotions really contrasted with her transformation into the star she became and the confidence she acquired as she realised she could step out of the shadows. The final scenes where you watched Louise develop into Gypsy Rose Lee, were spectacular to watch and Hoskins shines and owns the stage! 

As for Rebecca Thornhill’s Rose…what a performance….120mph throughout! Her energy and performance, especially belting out “Rose’s Turn” and “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” were equally balanced by the occasional pathos and emotional depth. She dominates the stage, quite rightly. This iconic role has been played famously by so many formidable actors, but Rebecca Thornhill stamps her own personality on the role. She and Hoskins are, frankly, a delight in this wonderful 5 star production!

This show was reviewed on the 3rd June 2023.  Gypsy runs at The Mill at Sonning until the 15th July 2023.  Tickets available here: Mill at Sonning

Review written by Ruth Hawkins

Photo credit: Andreas Lambis

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