Review: The Stripper, St James Theatre

“Baby, you give me a hard-on”

If only, for Richard O’Brien and Richard Hartley’s The Stripper is a fantastically misjudged piece of theatre, an attempt at noir-ish convention dressed up in musical theatre clothing from 1982. This pair of Dicks give us a real dick, from Carter Brown’s pulp fiction story, in Al Wheeler, a detective trying to get to the bottom of the suicide of hot actress Patty Keller but do precisely nothing to address his dickishness. You could try and argue period detail with its 60s-set sexism but failing to interrogate it in this day and age is pretty much unforgivable.

Which is a shame as there’s the makings of something interesting here. Hartley and O’Brien’s score is an enjoyable mixture of period-appropriate musical influences that is toe-tappingly tuneful and catchy in places too. And director Benji Sperring has gathered a great cast of 5 who energetically cover a multitude of roles – Sebastien Torki and Gloria Onitiri both stand out. But where Sperring was able to tap into something with his most recent pulp project The Toxic Avenger, albeit still with a couple of tonal mis-steps, it’s much harder to reconcile what happens here.

Part of the issue lies in the cabaret staging in the downstairs St James Theatre space. It is clumsily used to allow for the cast to mingle and interact with the audience which plays merry havoc with the sightlines and audibility. And more significantly, it promotes a higher sense of accountability when the burlesque starts, a hugely uncomfortable strip presented without commentary or critique, a moment of real sleaziness that made me angry , more so since I had no means of easy escape. No matter how you dress it up or strip it off, this is misogynistic claptrap. 

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Booking until 13th August

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