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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Once in a Lifetime
Olivier Theatre       Winter 2005-2006

This 1930 satire by Broadway giants Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman is a lively romp whose only weakness is that its target - Hollywood - is a bit too easy and its jokes have been mined and reused by others so often that the original may seem a bit old-hat.

A trio of vaudevillians join the gold rush to Hollywood after the 1928 advent of sound, at first setting themselves up as elocution coaches (Cue jokes about starlets with squeaky voices and Brooklyn accents, later to be stolen bodily in Singin' in the Rain).

The most simple-minded of the trio is mistaken for an artistic genius (Cue jokes stolen in any number of Simpsons episodes), but so crazy is the movie world that his most stupid mistakes turn into hits (Cue - well,you get the idea).

Kaufman and Hart's satire is sharp and funny, and only the sense of deja vu andt he occasional hint of swatting flies with cannons blunts it.

Certainly Edward Hall's sparkling production keeps spirits and energy high, moving the large cast about the Olivier stage with the aid of Mark Thompson's witty sets and a few music-and-dance interludes.

The last major revival of this play, by the RSC 25 years ago, lacked exactly that bouncy fluidity and just lay there, despite the pace-setting performances of Zoe Wanamaker and Richard Griffiths, and those of you with long memories will be as pleasantly surprised as I was at how much better it all seems this time around.

If Lloyd Hutchinson is a bit stiff as the romantic lead, Victoria Hamilton captures that archetypal mythic figure, the wisecracking Broadway moll with a heart beneath her hard edges, to delightful perfection and Adrian Scarborough is fun as the dim-but-loveable innocent.

David Suchet does what amounts to an extended guest-star cameo as the mad studio head, and brings a lot of energy (i.e., he bustles and shouts a lot) with him whenever he appears, and Issy van Randwyck as a gossip columnist, Serena Evans as the most officious of secretaries and Caroline Sheen as the dimmest of starlets all add to the fun.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Once In A Lifetime - National Theatre 2005
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