Review: The Third Man, Menier Chocolate Factory

Painfully old-fashioned, this aimless musical adaptation of The Third Man is punishingly bad at Menier Chocolate Factory

“No one knows anything anymore”

In some theatres across London, there’s a real sense that there’s interest and investment in the future of musical theatre. In others, the focus is resolutely in the past, in more ways than one. The musical adaptation of The Third Man, the current occupant of the Menier Chocolate Factory, definitely falls into the latter category as it does very little to make its case in contemporary theatreland.

I’d be the last one to blame age but when you’ve a writing team (music by George Fenton, book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton) and lead director (Trevor Nunn) whose average age rounds out at 80, then you can see where I’m coming from, we’re hardly in the territory of fresh new approaches or the revitalisation of a form that has always thrived on innovation.

Thus we’re given perfunctory lyrics that rarely do anything but describe. Music that skates on the surface of the psychological potential here as conforms to the norm of comic character numbers here and brooding solos there which could slot into any faceless musical to be honest. And the book, based on Graham Greene’s novel and Carol Reed’s film, does little to deal with the legacy of the iconic film, a pale imitation which struggles to justify its existence in this form.

Nunn’s direction also feels old-fashioned, inevitably drawing from his repertoire as he floods this small stage with bodies as if to try and distract us. This portrayal of post-war Vienna does look handsome in Paul Farnsworth’s design and Rebecca Howell’s choreography but the headlong rush of Sam Underwood’s Holly Martins, a US writer searching for the truth about the mysterious death of his friend Harry Lime with Harry’s ex (Natalie Dunne), falls flat in the hands of words and music so uninterested in telling a vibrant story.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Manuel Harlan
The Third Man is booking at the Menier Chocolate Factory until 9th September

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *