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The Theatreguide.London Review

A Man of No Importance
Arts Theatre     February 2010

Like the 1994 film on which it is based, this modest little musical starts off as a piece of amiable period (1960) fluff, only to turn somewhat deeper and darker than you expected.

If you like your musicals to have good songs, good jokes and still a bit of a bite, and don't mind the absence of grand staging or falling chandeliers, there is a lot here to please.

Film and musical both tell of a poetry-spouting Dublin bus conductor who leads the local amateur theatre group, and who makes the tactical mistake of trying to produce Oscar Wilde's Salome in a church hall, while at the same time beginning to face the fact that he has more in common with his idol Wilde than a love of theatre.

I've not seen the film, but the adaptation by American playwright Terrence McNally is skilful and sensitive in establishing characters, telling the story and guiding it into deeper psychological and emotional territory, all while leaving space for songs to be inserted.

Only the obligatory happy ending, somewhat fudging on the outcome of the hero's coming out, seems rushed and forced.

The songs by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens are rarely much more than serviceable. Flaherty's music is eclectically derivative, with echoes, inevitably, of Sondheim and Lloyd Webber and, not too surprisingly, of his own Ragtime.

Ahrens' lyrics are stronger, capable of real wit, as in the amateur players' conviction that they're making 'Art', and of quietly sweet emotion, as in 'You Just Have To Love Who You Love'.

This production transferred from the tiny Union Theatre, but even on the not-much-larger Arts stage only occasionally feels a bit cramped and underproduced, notably in the song 'Streets of Dublin,' which clearly wants to be bigger than it is, and in the second act opener, which recalls Billy Elliot's miners/ballerinas sequence as it overlaps a rowdy Dublin pub with a cathedral mass.

Except for those moments, and for a couple of minor performances that come a bit too close to the community theatre standards they're satirising, director Ben De Wynter nicely guides the production through its several emotional levels.

Paul Clarkson captures the edge of sadness in the closeted conductor from the start, giving the character a depth that can support the drama to come.

Patrick Kelliher as his amiable driver, Roisin Sullivan as the new girl in town who we are deliberately misled into thinking will be the love interest and Anthony Cable as a cynical and loyal friend (who also gets one of the sweeter songs, 'The Cuddles Mary Gave') give strong support.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of A Man Of No Importance - Arts Theatre 2010


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