This stage adaptation of Cool Hand Luke is very much a case of "right time, right place".
Opening this week at the Aldwych Theatre after the recent riots and before next week's planned occupation of the London Stock Exchange, the original 1967 film saw the late Paul Newman as the incarcerated eponymous anti-hero with an unbreakable spirit and a Houdini-like talent for escape. This version has been adapted by Emma Reeve from Donn Pearce’s 1965 novel, although most of us will inevitably measure it against the more successful film.
In the Newman role is Marc Warren, another forty-something blue-eyed blond; he is not a bad fit at all. Playing his role with the charisma and insouciance it requires, he also shows some fairly nifty musical skills on the banjo and mouth organ.
Easily the highlight of the show is Luke’s wager to eat 50 hard boiled eggs in one hour; although this is accelerated for the benefit of theatre, Warren must consume at least 10 or so eggs in front of us: no mean feat and well executed. There are also some markedly good flashbacks to Luke’s war experience and the chopping between late 1940s Florida and mid-World War II Germany is achieved excellently.
There’s a palpable feeling of enthusiasm amongst a cast that clearly gel well together. Of particular note is Richard Brake’s quietly menacing portrayal of Boss Godfrey.
An enduring theme of religion is emphasized through frequent gospel music interludes performed by Sandra Marvin. Although beautifully sung, these can appear, at times, superfluous to the story.
Unfortunately the overall effect is not a positive one. We continue to feel as though we are missing something in this condensed journey: elements of the characters and story have been lost in its adaptation to theatre and we’re left with the feeling of being owed more.
In short, we recommend seeing the original; as Paul Newman famously quipped: "Why fool around with hamburger when you have steak at home?"
By Rachel Phillips
The reviewer attended press night on a press ticket.