If the title Tommy On Top doesn’t scream understatement, David Shields’ reassuringly tasteful set quickly allays fears that the show will be anything but class. Overlooking the rain-soaked Hollywood hills, Tommy’s hotel room is an elegant marriage of chartreuse and plum, Art Deco details and bold prints. It also has enough doors to hint at farce ahead.
Tommy (Alex Hulme), a heartthrob in the cheesy beefcake mould, is in Hollywood having been Oscar-nominated for his first serious film. His modest entourage consists of sister Molly, agent Eddie, and George, the boyfriend whose existence, if revealed, could scupper Tommy’s stardom and kill his Oscar prospects. At least that’s what Eddie, his equally gay agent, fervently believes. Chris Woodley’s show strikes a nice balance between comedy and sincerity. His characters are very funny, but they are also – even the worst of them – rather likeable.
Chris Lane as Eddie, and Megan Armstrong as Molly have the plum comedy roles and they don’t let them go to waste. Eddie is a vicious profanity-machine whose manbag contains everything a gay Republican could need. He prowls the room in a state of perpetually simmering rage, and his sneering tirades are blistering highlights of the show. If Eddie is the pantomime villain, Molly is the wise fool. The butt of many jokes, and a willing clown, she nevertheless has a powerful line in woke social commentary. With the style of Bubbles, the drinking habits of Edina and the politics of Saffy, she adds up to a very loveable, very entertaining character. I would happily watch a Molly and Eddie spin-off show.
Though not, perhaps, weeping-with-laughter funny, the show had me grinning all the way through. It is wall-to-wall jokes, from the unpredictable lighting to the musical theatre references, the slapstick fights, birthday surprises and tricky gimp masks. Just fun and silliness and plenty of sharp writing, all delivered with perfect timing.
The aesthetic also sparks a lot of joy, and each character has his or her distinctive look. Molly is all clashing pinks and zebra print, hack Kiki (Becky Sanneh) favours leopard print, Tommy’s a loafers guy, while George, styling himself Irish, pulls together a magnificent farmer-goes-to-Pride look, complete with bright green socks and matching neckerchief. Even the balloons seem to coordinate in this colourful visual feast.
The show does have a few bum notes, though the actual bum isn’t one of them. The big twist is revealed rather hurriedly, without much conviction, while Kiki and Judy (Bridgette Amofah) feel a little underwritten. Overall, though, Tommy On Top is slick, smart and a guaranteed mood-improver. Tommy’s final, quavering apologia is a pitch perfect send-up of the awards ceremony manifesto speech, but it is entirely heartfelt, and a heart-warming note on which to end a delightful evening.
Written by: Chris Woodley
Directed by: Bryan Hodgson
Produced by: Ben Paturel and John Owen in association with Andy Hill and Tom McGregor for Above The Stag Theatre
Tommy On Top is playing at Above The Stag until 29 August. Further information and booking via the below link.