THERE’S a fashion for adapting films into stage shows to be performed by actor-musicians – capturing the cinematic atmosphere at the same time as involving the audience.
You won’t see a better example than Sean Foley’s The Man in the White Suit, on stage at Bath until 21st September and opening in London later in the month. Alec Guinness’s 1951 comedy classic has been lovingly translated, performed on a set designed by Michael Taylor and accompanied by original and classic skiffle, performed live on stage.
The story is of a Cambridge graduate whose chemistry skills are accompanied by certain explosive tendencies. Poor Sidney Stratton has been sacked from every job, but his passionate clumsiness endears him to his friends, neighbours and workmates.
When he succeeds in creating a fabric that will last forever, without staining, stretching, or needing laundry, he’s convinced he will save the world from drudgery.
But his idealism runs splat into the concerns of the textile industry about its future, and of his colleagues about their jobs.
Without the support of the boss’s daughter, Daphne Birnley, and his landlady Mrs Watson, Sidney’s all at sea.
The film is known for its massive industrial backgrounds, fights and chases. How to bring them to a theatre audience? It’s a challenge that writer and director Foley and Michael Taylor take on with gusto and total success.
The 14-strong cast sings, dances, plays instruments and more. There’s a car chase, a daring escape from a tower and a dash through the Lowry-esque streets of the northern town.
Stephen Mangan is sensational as Stratton, with Kara Tointon capturing the wonderfully clipped “received pronunciation” of the day as the ambitious and intelligent daughter of the pompous old windbag of a textiles king (a lovely performance by Richard Cordery).
Sue Johnston is the loyal Mrs W, with Rina Fatania (remembered by local audiences for her Mrs Peachum in Kneehigh’s Dead Dog in a Suitcase) as the bolshie Brenda.
Visually, vocally and terpsichoreally it’s a joy. There are just a few seats left at Bath. See it here before facing the expense of a trip to the West End, where it is on stage until January.