‘Doesn’t survive the surgery’: THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT – West End

In London theatre, Opinion, Plays, Reviews, Ticket recommendations by Johnny FoxLeave a Comment

Wyndham’s Theatre, London – until 11 January 2019

When a ‘much-loved’ ‘classic’ movie is 70 years old, it’s okay to stop treating it like holy writ, right? Director Sean Foley had a huge success with The Ladykillers, turning the gentle fifties Ealing comedy into a smart farce. You can’t blame him for taking a second bite at the same cherry.

Unfortunately, The Man in the White Suit feels infinitely more laboured.  The satire in which a Cambridge boffin (Alec Guinness) discovers an indestructible fabric which divides capital and labour in a Lancashire cotton mill simply doesn’t survive the surgery and dies on the operating table early in Act One.

The ‘good bits’ are the shift of the plot to 1956 to suit the accompanying skiffle music crafted by Noah and the Whale frontman Charlie Fink, and ably played by Matthew Durkan and cast colleagues, and the relentless willingness of the cast to drop trousers, make fart noises and crash into doors. But, hang on, wasn’t the skiffle music and physical comedy what made One Man, Two Guvnors such a hit – this feels like a fourth-flimsy carbon copy bashed out on a fifties Remington.

The portmanteau set, devised by Foley’s Ladykillers collaborator Michael Taylor is nifty, folding out into factory, laboratory, pub, road and backyard.  It looks pre-designed for provincial touring, possibly sooner than producers anticipate.

The leads work almost desperately hard, and there are moments especially in the second half when Stephen Mangan’s sheer niceness might win you over. Hanging out of an MG roadster in a car chase is terrific but just highlights how difficult it is to stage film scenes.

As the love interest, Kara Tointon’s vowels and determination are a loving homage to the young Margaret Thatcher, and her dance moves, especially with the equally nimble Mangan in the confines of a single bedroom, are a tribute to her Strictly-winning status.

Also borrowing from One Man Two Guvs, there’s a bit of fourth-wall breaking, often clumsily by Sue Johnston’s phoning-it-in performance as a camp washerwoman, and some lame political gags about proroguing parliament and Brexit.

None of which are half as ironic as the whole production’s sneering stereotypes about thick working class northerners which are worthy of an Islington dinner party.

until 11 January 2020

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Johnny Fox
‘Johnny Fox’ studied Theatre at Lancaster University and Journalism at City before realising there was no money in either profession and concentrating instead on interior design for investment banks in Singapore, New York and Moscow. Back home, he now writes mostly about theatre, mostly in London, for arts and events websites. He blogs independently at www.johnnyfox.london.
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Johnny Fox
‘Johnny Fox’ studied Theatre at Lancaster University and Journalism at City before realising there was no money in either profession and concentrating instead on interior design for investment banks in Singapore, New York and Moscow. Back home, he now writes mostly about theatre, mostly in London, for arts and events websites. He blogs independently at www.johnnyfox.london.

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