“If they choose to, the company may dump any man”
The historic walls of Wilton’s Music Hall – the last surviving grand music hall in the world – may be old but they are far from old-fashioned. After their major refurb, the shift into becoming a producing venue has seen them adopt a varied multi-disciplinary programme of comedy and music as well as theatre (look out for the Tobacco Factory’s highly-rated Othello coming soon).
Sadly, their current revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying – the first major one in this country since its 1963 premiere – falls on the side of the fatally old-fashioned. Director Benji Sperring’s sure touch has seen him work wonders with shows like The Toxic Avenger but here, an inconsistency of tone and performance level means that it sits awkwardly on this august stage.
The plot follows brash young window cleaner J Pierrepont Finch. who rises rapidly through the ranks of the World Wide Wicket Company with the help of the titular self-help book, and doesn’t give a fudge about who he shafts along the way. Marc Pickering plays him with a roguish glint in his eye but there’s little he can do to redeem this charmless character, or make him as appealing as the plot requires him to be.
Hannah Grover’s lovelorn secretary is the main victim here , the Pulitzer-winning book (Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock, and Willie Gilbert) showing every one of its 55 years in its dated gender politics – “what female kind of trap could I spring?” she has to sing at one point. But where perhaps a knowing satirical bent on the material might have passed muster, there’s too straight a bat here from Grover, especially compared to the outré silliness of Matthew Whitby’s personnel manager.
Frank Loesser’s score also doesn’t quite do enough musically to transcend the problems either, Lucy Pankhurst’s choreography is ill-suited to the space, and Mike Lees’ set design doesn’t make the most of the surroundings. One to chalk up to experience maybe, and quite how it is so popular in the US I’d be most interested to know, but this one really wasn’t for me.