This delightful production, a moving reprise of Bill Naughton’s dark comedy, crackles with a rakish, wistfully sardonic performance by ’60s Brit pop star-cum-actor Adam Faith.
Faith’s portrayal of a middle-aged Alfie Elkins is more poignant and bittersweet than Michael Caine’s in the 1966 film version (played by Caine when he was only 33).
Playwright Naughton drew Alfie from his early experiences as a truck driver and coal bagger, with the character rooted in the gritty industrial Britain of the ’50s and ’60s.
The play opens as Alfie breezes past his latest conquest, Siddie (Jillie Mack), while cluing the audience into his strategies for seduction of a what seems like half the female population of London.
There are lots of “birds” in Alfie’s cage, all of them memorable captives. Gilda (Cecil Hoffmann) is a “standby” girlfriend who ends up bearing Alfie’s child (perhaps the real love of his life). Annie (Tracy Hardwick) is a brief love whom Alfie steals from one of his mates, Sharpey (Sean Jackson), and who is content at least for awhile to scrub his floor and cook him steak-and-kidney pie.
Flo (Judy Geeson) is a middle-aged sexpot who is just as sharp as Alfie and finally beats him at his own game. And Lily (Catherine McGoohan) is the hapless wife of Alfie’s hospital roommate who has the misfortune of experiencing an afternoon tryst with the Cockney Romeo.
These women, and certainly many more like them, are both the joy and the anguish of Alfie’s life. As played by Faith, Alfie has a kind of tough, even cruel magnetism that draws women to him, but also makes any real intimacy impossible.
He is a man who, ironically, has a deep understanding and intuition about women, but can only use this gift for his own narcissistic gratification. Ultimately, this is the tragicomedy of Don Juan played out in the world of the British working class.
The play is also firmly rooted in the popular social attitudes of the time, and is therefore devoid of any self-conscious political correct-ness. While Alfie practices the worst sort of pre-feminist sexism, there is something curiously contemporary about this battle-scarred veteran of the gender wars. Perhaps the fundamental things do still apply.
The production is so vivid and alive due to the performance by Faith (who headlined a successful tour of the production in Britain). His chats to the audience are as informal and chummy as if he were carrying on a conversation in a pub, drawing the audience into his “little” life and loves.
The actor is surrounded by an extraordinary cast, particularly the women, who create memorable characters that not only reflect the seductive glory of Alfie, but also put a mirror up to all his foibles.
Geeson, Hardwick, Hoffmann, Mack and McGoohan all portray women who are not simply victims of Alfie, but also co-conspirators in both his enlightenment and ultimate downfall.
Other cast members, including Dan Hildebrand, Sean Jackson and Alexa Jago, are effective in their smaller roles.
Direction by Faith and his daughter, Katya Nelhams-Wright, is also strong, although occasionally the timing lags in this production, which is planned for a five-week run as part of the UK/LA arts fest. Lighting and scene changes were also somewhat bumpy, but did not mar the emotional strength of the evening.