×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

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.

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.

Popular on Variety

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

  • Broadway Review: David Byrne's 'American Utopia'

    Broadway Review: David Byrne's 'American Utopia'

    One constant of David Byrne’s long and prolific career is his ability to grow a seemingly simple idea into something brilliant, whether it’s the melody of “Road to Nowhere” or the concept of the “Stop Making Sense” tour some 36 years ago, where the premise of bringing out nine musicians, one at a time per [...]

  • The Sound Inside review

    Broadway Review: 'The Sound Inside' Starring Mary-Louise Parker

    Mary-Louise Parker will take your breath away with her deeply felt and sensitively drawn portrait of a tenured Yale professor who treasures great literature, but has made no room in her life for someone to share that love with. The other thesp in this two-hander is Will Hochman, endearing in the supportive role of a [...]

  • Little Shop of Horrors review

    Off Broadway Review: 'Little Shop of Horrors'

    With its strains of kitschy doo-wop and its sci-fi B-movie inspirations, the quaint 1982 musical “Little Shop of Horrors” hardly seems a thing of modern-day revivalism, even despite its touches of S&M. Yet this year alone, not only is there an Off Broadway production of the blackly comic “Little Shop” featuring Jonathan Groff of Netflix’s [...]

  • The Lightning Thief review musical

    Broadway Review: 'The Lightning Thief,' The Musical

    “It’s a lot to take in right now,” says Percy Jackson, the teen hero of “The Lightning Thief,” the kid-centric fantasy musical (based on the popular Y.A. novel) that’s now on Broadway after touring the country and playing an Off Broadway run. You could say that’s a bit of an understatement from contemporary teen Percy [...]

  • The Rose Tattoo review

    Broadway Review: 'The Rose Tattoo' Starring Marisa Tomei

    “The Rose Tattoo” is what happens when a poet writes a comedy — something strange, but kind of lovely. The same might be said of director Trip Cullman’s production: Strange, if not exactly lovely. Even Marisa Tomei, so physically delicate and expressively refined, seems an odd choice to play the lusty and passionate protagonist, Serafina [...]

  • Obit-Roy-B

    Former NATO President Roy B. White Dies at 93

    Roy B. White, former president and chairman of the National Association of Theater Owners, died of natural causes Oct. 11 in Naples, Fla. He was 93. White ran the 100-screen independent theater circuit, Mid–States Theaters Inc. In addition to his career, he did extensive work on behalf of charities and non-profits. He was vice president [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content