The Theatreguide.London Review
The Solid Gold Cadillac
Garrick Theatre Autumn-Winter 2004
Howard Teichmann and George S. Kaufman wrote this gentle satire of big business fifty years ago to be a light bit of harmless comic fluff, and that is exactly what it remains.
You'll get about the same number of laughs, and the same type of laughs, that you'd get from two hours of very good TV sitcom. And if you don't ask any more than that from an evening at the theatre, this is the show for you. If you do expect more for your money, this will probably disappoint.
The primary reason for seeing this revival, apart from the professionally turned-out humour machine of the script, is Patricia Routledge's performance in the central role of a little lady who asks some embarrassing questions at a stockholders' meeting and ends up running the company.
(I've given away the ending because there are no surprises in this show. All the plot turns, and indeed most of the jokes, are telegraphed long in advance. The pleasure comes, not from surprise, but from the smoothness with which your anticipations are fulfilled.)
Routledge is, of course, an expert comic actress, and this kind of role is meat and drink to her. She knows exactly where all the laughs are, and how to deliver them to full effect, and from her first line you are in the hands of a master of the craft.
She also offers some surprises to those who may have seen the show before. While the part may have been written to suggest a degree of innocent stumbling into power - Margaret Rutherford played it in the original London production and Judy Holliday in the film, so you get the idea - Routledge makes it perfectly clear from her first moment that in her hands this woman is going to be as sharp-witted as she is sharp-tongued.
While the character may not know how business is ordinarily run, she knows the world. When the crooks who are mismanaging the company give her a meaningless job just to keep her from raising any more embarrassing questions, she rolls up her sleeves and gets to work.
Soon, not only does she uncover more of their crimes, but she organises her secretary's hairdo and romantic life, rescues an honest businessman from a government job he hates, and even manages to enjoy finding herself in an unlikely sex scandal.
A lot of the fun comes from our spotting early that this is a woman to stay out of the way of, and our absolute confidence that she will triumph.
Roy Hudd, another reliable and immensely personable veteran comic actor, plays the good executive who allies himself with Routledge's character to oust the baddies. But, except for one hilarious set piece in which he recreates a schoolboy recitation, he gives a thoroughly selfless supporting performance, playing straight man to the star.
And, to be frank, just about everyone else in the show is terrible. Granted, the villains and the heroine's allies are all written as caricatures, but director Ian Brown hasn't quite had the courage of his convictions, leading his supporting cast only as far as that awkward midpoint between realism and broad exaggeration that just looks like bad amateur acting.
He has also been unable to give the action any of the rhythm and punch that joke-based comedy requires, and too many scenes just peter out when they should end with a bang.
So this is not Great Comedy. It's considerably better than OK, much - as I said at the start - like a good TV sitcom. Expect absolutely no more than that, and you'll be happy.
Oh, and that titular car? In case you're curious, it shows up in the final moments as a symbol of the heroine's triumph (The black-and-white Judy Holliday film went to colour for that one shot), but really has nothing to do with the action.
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