SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS
book by John Guare lyrics by Craig Carnelia music by Marvin Hamlisch.
Arcola Theatre 24 Ashwin Street E8 3DL To 22 December 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 20min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7503 1646.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 26 November.
Worth giving the time of night to.
It’s comforting to know things could be bad as now in the good old days. Celeb culture and media middle-men, who could be starrier than the people whose careers they trailed, were around in 1952 when this adaptation of Alexander Mackendrick’s 1957 film (itself based on a story published in 1950) is set. It was the year Puerto Rico became linked to America, so there’s something fitting in the more pungent, jagged sections of Marvin Hamlisch’s score recalling the jazzier street-scene music of West Side Story.
The hostile divide here, across which love seeks secretly to blossom, isn’t between American Whites and Puerto Ricans, but between the successful and the aspirant. Nobody’s more successful in the print world of gossip and verbal assassination than J J Hunsecker, who might have gone several rounds with Dorothy Parker and come out still breathing. It’s hardly the part for David Bamber, who’s better as the put-upon (as with his humiliated Shostakovich in David Pownall’s Master Class) than putter-down-in-chief.
But, good actor as he is, Bamber gives Hunsecker a run for his money, not as an assured lord of the print, but someone using verbal gifts to wipe-out feelings of vulnerability. It fits his weakness over Susan, whom he seeks to protect from a world outside where there’s a climate he helps make colder. Here, in embryo is another fifties dramatic relationship, from Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge.
Caroline Keiff gives young Susan a will of her own, while Stuart Matthew Price shows the song-and-dance quality that makes the man she loves seem dynamic at the microphone. Caught in the midst, as Hunsecker acolyte with a moral sense, Adrian der Gregorian’s Sidney has a smooth plausibility.
Around the edges are the bit-part narrative add-ons that betoken a filmic origin and seem awkward on stage, though Hunsecker’s empire of knowledge is tellingly a resource-bank for manipulation and coercion, placing its owner in a position to manipulate politicians.
If that doesn’t sound so sweet, Hamlisch’s score sings out brightly enough with authentic period flavour; not a great success, maybe, but one to be enjoyed.
J J Hunsecker: David Bamber.
Madge: Rebecca Louis.
Sidney Falcone: Adrian der Gregorian.
Rita: Celia Graham.
Dallas: Stuart Matthew Price.
Susan: Caroline Kieff.
Club Zanzibar Singer: Tosh Wanogho-Maud.
Otis: Michael Chadwick.
Kello: Aaron Shirley.
Senator/Congressman: Morgan Deare.
Toni: Russell Morton.
Ensemble: Brenan Davies, Zoë Doano, Claire Doyle, Claudia Kariuki, Nikola Trifunovic.
Director: Mehmet Ergen.
Designer: Mark Bailey.
Lighting: David Howe.
Sound: Ed Borgnis.
Orchestrator: Tom Kelly.
Musical Director: Bob Broad.
Choreographer: Nathan M Wright.
Dialect coach: Marj McDaid.
Assistant directors: Natalie Katsou, Marieke Audsley.
Associate sound: Simon Hendry.