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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Man In The White Suit
Wyndham's Theatre   Autumn 2019

The 1951 Ealing Studios film The Man In The White Suit was a modest, low-key satiric comedy driven by the amiable performance of Alec Guinness at its centre.

This new stage adaptation is a modest, low-key satiric comedy driven by the amiable performance of Stephen Mangan at its centre.

The question facing theatregoers is what the stage version adds to just watching the movie again. And the answer is not a whole lot.

Stephen Mangan is an attractive comic performer, with a special talent for showing confusion and panic. And because he's a skilled comic performer, he finds and delivers all the laughs in adapter-director Sean Foley's script.

Some, including me, might prefer the Guinness style of playing a character who didn't know he was in a comedy, letting us discover the humour rather than underlining it for us.

But Mangan is funny, particularly in what on film would be the reaction shots, the moments when his face and body language show him having to respond to situations he hadn't expected.

(Just a reminder: in a Northern mill town mildly dotty scientist invents an indestructible stain-and-dirt-repelling cloth, and is then surprised when bosses and workers alike turn on him when they realize no one will ever have to buy more than one suit.)

Otherwise, Sean Foley's main change is to introduce an onstage skiffle band who play from time to time, generally to cover scene changes or provide an ending for scenes the adapter couldn't write his way out of.

Most of the supporting actors, solid professionals as they may be, give generic by-the-numbers characterisations, and Sue Johnston's sympathetic landlady and Richard Cordery's blustering boss could have been imported bodily from any other show they've been in.

Kara Tointon is attractive as the potential love interest and does keep us guessing whether she's sincerely falling for Mangan's boffin or just using him. A comic seduction dance, with her leading, is a high point of the evening.

Sean Foley is an experienced director of farce, and so it is a little disappointing that his blocking and pacing here are so imprecise. An Errol Flynn-style scene of fighting and derring-do that should be both exciting and hilarious is played at about half the speed it wants, with everything not quite tight enough in the choreography.

Will you enjoy this version of The Man In The White Suit? Yes, certainly.

Will you enjoy it more than sitting at home and downloading the movie? I'm not sure.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - The Man In The White Suit  - Wyndham's Theatre 2019

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