“I wasn’t expecting all this hoopla…”
It’s not been the easiest of births for The Hudsucker Proxy – an incident in the dress rehearsal left two actors hospitalised, fortunately both have now been discharged and are recuperating at home, and the decision was made to forge ahead with the show, recasting where necessary. The show is certainly an interesting prospect – a co-production between Nuffield and Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse in association with Complicite, and the first ever theatrical adaptation of a Coen Brothers film too – and its doors are now finally open in Southampton, ahead of a trip to Liverpool and then an international tour in the near future.
And you can see it succeeding. The show uncovers realms of theatrical influences in the Coen Brothers’ work but also adds in much of its own, to create a dizzying screwball comedy that is frequently laugh-out-loud funny. It would be churlish to give too much away but there are some inspired moments of staging in Simon Dormandy and Toby Sedgwick’s staging, especially concerning the window of the 44th floor office in which much of the drama is set. The physical work here is explicit too, the company relying on their own bodies as much as Dick Bird’s magnificent art deco-inflected set design to create constantly imaginative sequences.
Given the disruption to the schedules, one can perhaps forgive the overall feel of the production not quite flowing as efficiently as it could, the screwball twists need to turn a little tighter to keep the overarching pacing ticking over at a decent lick. But there’s nothing wrong with the performances. Joseph Timms has huge fresh-faced appeal as Norville Barnes, the unassuming mailroom guy suddenly made president of Hudsucker Industries by the manipulative board of directors, the ever-excellent Sinéad Matthews is on fine form as the journalist determined to expose him but uncovering her feelings instead, and Tamzin Griffin brilliantly delineates a series of grotesque cameos with huge relish.
Musicality comes from the versatile Rob Castell, a contrasting youthful energy to Norville comes from Tim Lewis as the hopeful lift attendant and the other replacement, Dormandy himself, has much fun as the avaricious embodiment of corporate America. With hula hoops flying around (and literally off the stage at one point), angels intervening and time itself being stopped, there’s a delightful sense of playfulness to The Hudsucker Proxy that should see it go far.