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Currently chasing the winter blues
away at the Olivier Theatre is Edward Halls bright and breezy production of Once
In A Lifetime, Kaufman and Harts 1930 Broadway satire on Hollywood.
At the start of the play, a group of snowed-upon New Yorkers look agog at a large screen as Al Jolson hams his way through a song from The Jazz Singer the movie which ushered in the Talkies in 1927. Cue for a washed up vaudeville act, May, George and Jerry, hibernating in a cramped apartment, to "go
Kaufman and Harts comedy not only satirizes the frenzied transformation of Hollywood with the advent of the Talkies but also the studio system with its megalomaniacal studio heads, sycophantic staff, temperamental directors, airhead stars and scriptwriters endlessly re-writing preposterous plots or waiting for an assignment. However, there is also a bitter edge to the satire, for the authors point up the underlying waste (of dollars and washed up talent), created by the film factories, which Halls highly entertaining production, though an impressive ensemble piece, doesnt quite deliver.
However, it is a sumptuous production, with Mark Thompsons ravishing art deco designs (notably the sweeping gold staircase of the Hotel Stilton) and shimmering costumes (especially the celluloid black and white studio ones) all shown to full effect on the Oliviers revolve stage. Scene changes are turned into production numbers as the cast dance and sing their way through 20s numbers.
David Suchet as Glogauer creates a witty and commanding performance as the capricious studio head; Adrian Scarborough is endearing as George, the dopey member of the trio who ends up supervising the studio with disastrous results and Caroline Sheen is charming as his equally dopey would be starlet girl friend Susan Walker. The production is fast paced, the dialogue is snappy and the many roles are seamlessly played by the company, though some of the characterization lacks detail.
But the slickness glosses over potentially big comic moments and some of the dialogue and does not give Jonathan Mc Guinness (as the neurotic writer Lawrence Vail) and Tim McMullan (as Kammerling, the nervy German director) the chance to develop potentially rich comic portrayals. Also the on/off romance between May (Victoria Hamilton) and Jerry (Lloyd Hutchinson), though well played, loses emotional weight through the efficient pace.
This is a very entertaining evening and a gorgeous spectacle but it is a production which needs to pause and draw breath to achieve its full potential.
January 11, 2006 - Neil Ludwick