×
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.

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

  • Stephen Moore

    Stephen Moore, 'Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' Android, 'Doctor Who' Actor, Dies at 81

    Stephen Moore, best known for his roles as the paranoid android Marvin in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” radio series and the Silurian Eldane in “Doctor Who,” has died. He was 81. “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” producer Dirk Maggs confirmed Moore’s death Sturday on Twitter, writing, “Our dear friend Stephen Moore has [...]

  • Ben Platt Variety Power of New

    Ben Platt on Coming Out and the Queerness of 'The Politician'

    Ben Platt never imagined he would one day star in a series like “The Politician.” “I didn’t think I could be a star of a show in general starting out. I think I was like, ‘I’ll do Broadway. I can be on stage and I can play Jimmy in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and Nathan Detroit [...]

  • Michael Jackson in concert in Milton

    Michael Jackson Musical to Open on Broadway in Summer 2020

    “MJ,” a musical based on the life and career of Michael Jackson, will open on Broadway in summer 2020. Preview performances will start July 6 before its official debut on Aug. 13. The stage show, which will include songs like “Beat It,” “Billie Jean,” “The Way You Make Me Feel,” and “Smooth Criminal,” was originally [...]

  • The Wrong Man review

    Off Broadway Review: 'The Wrong Man'

    Credit songwriter Ross Golan for the seamless quality of “The Wrong Man,” his mesmerizing musical about a good man who deserves a good life but seems to attract nothing but bad luck. The show’s inventive book, music, and lyrics were all penned by this multi-hyphenate talent who was named 2016 BMI Pop Songwriter of the [...]

  • Kristin Chenoweth Broadway

    Listen: Kristin Chenoweth Wants to Write a Broadway Musical

    Kristin Chenoweth doesn’t just want to star in Broadway musicals. She’s thinking about writing one, too. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “I think about it a lot,” Chenoweth said on the latest episode of “Stagecraft,” Variety‘s theater podcast. “I want someone to collaborate with me on a story I have, and it would be [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content