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  • Writer's pictureSarah

Everything’s coming up roses – our review of ‘Gypsy’ at the Mill at Sonning

I’m about to really age myself by saying that the last time I saw Gypsy it starred Angela Lansbury as Rose and Bonnie Langford as Baby June. I had to Google exactly when that was on in the West End, and it seems it was 1974, and I’d have been 12. In retrospect seems a slightly risqué choice on my mother’s behalf given my age, but I’m glad she did as it was fantastic with Angela Lansbury landing on the right side of the horrendous stage mother, and Bonnie Langford managing the precocious child role with great gusto (though I have to wonder now if much acting was actually called upon). So, when invited to review Gypsy at The Mill at Sonning, which is one of my favourite theatre venues I didn’t have to hesitate. Rail strike or not, I was going to be there.

A young blond girl does the splits backed by 4 boy dancers
Mia Burton as Baby June with the Paperboys, Photo credit Andreas Lambis

Gypsy is the musical of the real-life story of Gypsy Rose Lee. Born around 1910 (her mother Rose was vague about the details and faked the ages of her children to either make them seem cuter or to abide by state laws about performance ages.) Her younger sister, June was the star in her mother’s eyes, with Louise even playing the front end of a cow in one show. Eventually Louise is the one to save her mother’s dream of a daughter with her name in lights, but it was as a burlesque act rather than as a Vaudeville performer. Gypsy Rose Lee went onto become the highest paid and most famous striptease artist in the world, and made immortal by the Stephen Sondheim musical.

As alluded to above, the role of Rose can be tricky to get right. She is the queen of all stage mothers; fighting and pushing all the time for success for Baby Jane (less so for sister Louise who she regards as talentless and equal only to the boy backing singers), yet she loves her daughters and the man she meets along the way, Herbie.

Woman in a red dress and hat standing with open arms beneath a lit up sign saying 'Rose'
Gypsy Rebecca Thornhill as Rose Photo Andreas Lambis

Ultimately Rose chooses between her ambition for her daughter and her love for her fiancée, Herbie. Rose can be played in a very one dimensional way, leaving the audience with little empathy for her. Rebecca Thornhill absolutely nails the role, making Rose both a nightmare to experience and a joy to experience. Her comedy timing is exceptionally good, she belts out the big numbers brilliantly, and manages to give nuance to the part.

The musical contains many great songs, ‘Let me entertain you’, ‘Everything’s coming up Roses’, ‘You Gotta Get a Gimmick’, and possibly the most moving one, ‘Rose’s Turn’.

Woman dressed a Roman soldier playing the trumpet
Susannah van den Berg as Mazeppa, and the Gypsy Strippers (Seren Sandham-Davies, Marina Tavolieri, Laura Tyrer) Photo Andreas Lambis

There are so many great performances in this show, Rebecca Thornhill, Evelyn Hoskins as vulnerable Louise, Daniel Chowder as the kind and loving Herbie, with the fellow strippers providing a lot of fun from Laura Tryer as the ex-ballet dancer, Susannah Van Den Berg stripping with a trumpet, and Natalie Winsor as Electria. (There is no actual nudity in the show – it’s burlesque and a tease).

Natalie Titchener has out-done herself with the costumes for this show, the home-made outfits look home-made, the Parisian high-end dresses look as stunning as they should, and the stripper’s outfits must have really set her creativity into over-drive.

If you are unfamiliar with the format at The Mill at Sonning, the ticket includes a buffet main course and a waiter served dessert pre-show. It makes for an incredibly pleasurable trip to the theatre, and when you’re seeing a show of this quality it’s a complete no-brainer. This ‘Gypsy’ is as good, if not better than many West End offerings, but in a much more intimate setting. Get booking now – you won’t be disappointed, I promise.

When is Gypsy at the Mill at Sonning running?

Now until 15th July 2023

Ticket prices:

£74 including a 2 course meal




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