×

West End Review: ‘The Man in the White Suit’

Louder and faster are not funnier in Sean Foley’s frenetic screen-to-stage adaptation.

With:
Stephen Mangan, Kara Tointon, Sue Johnston, Delroy Atkinson, Richard Cordery, Ben Deery, Matthew Durkan, Richard Durden Rina Fatania, Eugene McCoy.

2 hours 15 minutes

As a rule of thumb, when adapting something, changing the tone and/or style for the new medium is a wise move — so long as the rethink fits or improves the original. If only that were the case with this fitfully amusing but enervating stage adaptation of “The Man in the White Suit.”

Once a now-forgotten play, the property was made famous by the 1951 comedy from Ealing Studios, the most quintessentially English of production companies. But what was a shrewd, surprisingly tender and Academy Award-nominated satire on technology, inventions and social good vs. commercial greed has been turned into a wearingly overplayed farce.

It looked good on paper. Writer-director Sean Foley, one half of the duo who wrote and performed the 2001 success “The Play What I Wrote,” had a U.K. hit with a stage production of “The Ladykillers,” another 1950s Ealing comedy. That too was repointed towards physical comedy and farce, but that had a script by comedy scribe Graham Linehan. This time it’s Foley in the writer’s chair, and the results are painfully thin.

The basic plot remains intact. TV and stage favorite Stephen Mangan (“Episodes”) is Sidney Stratton, a largely gauche scientist boffin in a working-class northern mill town who dreams of creating a fabric that repels dirt and never wears out. It’ll be a boon for all concerned, symbolized by his washerwoman landlady (Sue Johnston) who will be able to give up her job and spend her time in the long-dreamed-of holiday resort of Blackpool.

Popular on Variety

After a series of hirings and firings and literally explosive mishaps (amusingly designed and staged), Stratton achieves his priceless goal. His joy is short-lived, however, since the manufacturers see both trouble ahead and a one-off opportunity of making pots of money for themselves while the production-line workers realize he’s putting them out of a job.

From the cliched opening scene of busy townsfolk milling about to little effect, a depressing degree of generalized predictability hovers over the staging, punctuated by clumsy exposition. “1956 is going to be my year!” cries ever-smiling, cheeky chappie Jimmie (Matthew Durkan), in case we hadn’t gathered the era from the clothes. Jimmie plays guitar and sings in a skiffle band that is wheeled on and off to provide plot-underlining, boisterous songs.

Aside from Mangan who, when allowed by the script, brings warmth and considerable ease to the puzzlingly inconsistent role of Sidney — he’s clumsy and unaware, except when he’s conveniently not — the characterization is noisily one-note. The plain-speaking landlady has a heart of gold, the bosses are either bullishly self-aggrandizing or devious, and Kara Tointon as the boss’s daughter is given so little to work with she merely delivers an attitude in a posh accent. Yet since Tointon won the BBC reality TV dance ratings sensation “Strictly Come Dancing,” Foley gives her a rhumba and salsa routine with Mangan which is ideally executed but almost entirely pointless.

Elsewhere, Foley encourages everyone to underline and overplay their defining characteristic. Amid the frantic result there is precious little listening among the cast but an enormous amount of shouting. Almost everyone bellows their lines at the audience as if louder and faster will prove funnier. What’s almost entirely absent — aside from within Michael Taylor’s amusingly complicated sets, which are filled with sight-gags — is any shred of wit.

The production’s real debt is not to the original film but to the transatlantic smash “One Man, Two Guvnors.” But that came with the winning advantages of a far sharper script and meticulous direction by Nicholas Hytner and Cal McCrystal. Comparisons may be invidious, but copying the former show’s device of a skiffle band actively invites them — and not to the current show’s advantage.

West End Review: 'The Man in the White Suit'

Wyndham’s Theatre; 750 seats; £72.50 ($89) top. Opened, reviewed Oct. 8, 2019. Running time: TWO HOURS, 15 MIN.

Production: A presentation by Jenny King, Jonathan Church, Matthew Gale & Mark Goucher, associate producers Damian Arnold, Ewing Entertainment, Fane Productions, Gavin Kalin, Oliver Mackwood, Laurence Myers, Tulchin Bartner Productions, of a play in two acts by Sean Foley, based on the play The Flower Within The Bud by Roger MacDougall and screenplay by MacDougal, John Dighton and Alexander Mackendrick by special arrangement with StudioCanal.

Creative: Directed by Sean Foley. Music and lyrics, Charlie Fink. Sets & costumes, Michael Taylor; lighting, Mark Henderson; sound and incidental music, Ben & Max Ringham; choreographer, Lizzie Gee; production stage manager, Roy Gould.

Cast: Stephen Mangan, Kara Tointon, Sue Johnston, Delroy Atkinson, Richard Cordery, Ben Deery, Matthew Durkan, Richard Durden Rina Fatania, Eugene McCoy.

More Legit

  • Tina Fey attends the "Mean Girls"

    Tina Fey Announces Movie Adaptation of Broadway's 'Mean Girls' Musical

    It’s good to be mean…the “Mean Girls” musical, that is. Producers of the hit Broadway show announced today that the Tony-nominated production is being adapted for the big screen for Paramount Pictures. The musical is based on the 2004 movie of the same name. “I’m very excited to bring ‘Mean Girls’ back to the big screen,’ Tina Fey, [...]

  • Freestyle Love Supreme

    Watch Lin-Manuel Miranda and 'Freestyle Love Supreme' in Exclusive Clip From Sundance Documentary

    Before turning “Hamilton” and “In the Heights” into musical phenomenons, Lin-Manuel Miranda could have been found on stage, spouting off-the-cuff rhymes with his improv group, “Freestyle Love Supreme.” After performing across the globe, the troupe — founded 15 years ago by Miranda, his frequent collaborator Thomas Kail and emcee Anthony Veneziale — made its Broadway [...]

  • Ariana Grande 7 Rings

    Rodgers & Hammerstein Are Having a Moment Thanks to Ariana Grande, 'Oklahoma!'

    Jaws dropped when it was revealed that the late musical theater titans Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II were granted 90% of the songwriting royalties on “7 Rings,” Ariana Grande’s 2019 No. 1 hit. The dominant motif of Grande’s song is taken from “My Favorite Things,” the cornerstone of R&H’s 1959 musical “The Sound of [...]

  • A Soldiers Play review

    'A Soldier's Play': Theater Review

    Now, that’s what I call a play! Charles Fuller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama “A Soldier’s Play,” now being revived on Broadway by Roundabout Theatre Company, packs plenty of dramatic tension into smoldering issues of racial justice and injustice, military honor and dishonor, and the solemn struggle to balance their harrowing demands on characters who are only [...]

  • Bess Wohl

    Listen: The Impossible Plays of Bess Wohl

    The playwright Bess Wohl is always chasing a wild idea — and she’s found that rather than scaring away her collaborators, it just makes them more eager. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “I started my career thinking, oh, I’ll just write a play that’s really easy to do,” Wohl said on the latest episode [...]

  • Roundabout Theatre Company: Three New Plays

    Roundabout Theatre's Off-Broadway Season Adds Three Shows From Female Playwrights

    Roundabout Theatre Company, led by artistic director and CEO Todd Haimes, announced Tuesday that three female-written plays will be added to the 2020-2021 Off-Broadway season. Sanaz Toossi’s “English” will make its world premiere in fall of 2020, while Lindsey Ferrentino’s “The Year to Come” and Anna Ziegler’s “The Wanderers” will make their New York debuts [...]

  • Gregg Smith, Dancer and Choreographer Assistant,

    Gregg Smith, Dancer and Choreographer Assistant, Dies at 73

    Gregg Smith, a dancer, casting director and assistant choreographer who had a long association with director Kenny Ortega, has died. He was 73. Smith died on Jan. 1. The industry veteran worked as a performer in the national touring company of the musical “Hair” and in a Los Angeles production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” He [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content