by Joe Evans adapted from Charlotte Breese’s biography Hutch.
Riverside Studios (Studio 3) 1 Crisp Road W6 9RL In rep to 8 June 2013.
7.45pm 28, 29, 31 May, 1, 6 June.
2.45pm 1, 6 June.
Runs 1hr 50min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 8237 1111.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 18 May.
Glances at musical life black in the old days.
Nowadays no-one hears of Hutch, as band-leader Leslie Hutchinson was known, though some will remember him. He was a leading entertainer in his day, working (and living) with Cole Porter and supposedly having a fling with Edwina, wife of royally connected Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten.
Joe Evans’ play takes Hutch up in 1920s Paris, where Joe Zelli’s night-club offers a relaxed atmosphere for the wealthy, with music and dancing girls (finely reincarnated here by members of Weimar demi-monde tribute troupe Halbwelt Kultur). At Zelli’s, young Mountbatten and Edwina meet Porter and his wife-of-convenience Linda, while Hutch both tags along and entertains at the piano.
Chris Hone’s design colourfully recreates the optimistic surface and glitz of twenties Paris, in a set combining cabaret stage and tables, merging into the theatre audience, and providing an apt setting for numerous Porter standards. Habwelt Kultur create a sexy glamour that’s contrasted by the wholesome English attraction of Janna Yngwe’s Jessie Matthews (Matthews went on to be title character in Radio 4 soap Mrs Dale’s Diary).
There’s a louche glamour about Sid Phoenix’s Cole Porter too. Among interesting points in Joe Evans’ script (based on Charlotte Breese’s Hutch biography) is the jealousy, doubtless sexually-stoked, between Porter who couldn’t perform like Hutch, however much he tutors his protégée, and the magnetic star who couldn’t write or compose (despite adding verses backstage to Porter’s ‘Let’s Do It’).
Evans points out the censor insisted Porter define “it” as “fall in love”. Such information interests in a play that rarely digs beneath biography to investigate the characters’ characters.
Acting generally matches, being competent if not detailed; playing is good and singing often good enough, though needing refinement and smoothness on top notes.
Sheldon Green’s Hutch grows in confidence though he remains too content to react rather than raise a storm – even in his annoyance that, though a celebrity, he had to use tradesmen’s entrance. Because – did I not say? – Hutchinson was Black. Even as a celebrity he had to be kept at a social distance; something else that might have been explored further in this entertaining musical piece.
Lesley Hutchinson: Sheldon Green.
Cole Porter: Sid Phoenix.
Linda Porter: Nell Mooney.
Joe Zelli/Lawyer: Patrick Lannigan.
Edwina Mountbatten: Imogen Daines.
Lord Louise Mountbatten: Andrew Mathys.
Jesse Matthews: Janna Yngwe.
Zelli’s Girls: Halbwelt Kultur members.
Director: Linnie Reedman.
Designer: Chris Hone.
Lighting: Seth Rook-Williams.
Costume: Belle Mundi.