Chicago Grifters Take Over Victorian Music Hall
There haven’t been many stage adaptations of The Sting, and it’s easy to see why. The 1973 film about Depression-era conmen in Chicago was a huge hit and cleaned up at the Oscars. But it’s an ingeniously complicated story — the archetypal grifter movie, packed with twists and turns, cons and double crosses, a slew of slippery characters and multiple locations. Furthermore, it hinges on the boundless charisma of its two leads, Paul Newman and Robert Redford, as well as the malevolent panache of Robert Shaw, as the mob boss they’re trying to con. In short, it’s a very tricky one to reproduce on the stage.
This proves the case in Peter Joucla’s production of David Rogers’ script at Wilton’s Music Hall — the first show to play at the glorious East End venue since the completion of a major refurbishment project. You can’t fault the ambition involved in tackling such a piece, but it’s obvious from early on that the team have bitten off more than they can chew.
It would take a slick and clever production to really nail this slick and clever story. But, unfortunately, this is neither. It’s spirited in places and the cast do their best, but it’s too clumsy and lacking in imagination to ever do the story justice. Comedy beats are missed and key plot points fluffed, to the point that anyone who doesn’t already know the film may be left wondering what on earth is going on — a fact not helped by a reverberant room and some questionable American accents.
But there’s still something quite admirable to their efforts. Even with a West End budget and one of London’s hottest directors at the helm, this would be a hard show to get right. So to even attempt it on a fringe budget is a gutsy move. It might not pay off, but the production still has its moments and a fair amount of disheveled charm. At worst, it’ll give you a night out in one of London’s most beautiful and romantic venues. In that sense, at least, you won’t leave feeling conned.
By Dan Frost
Last Updated 15 September 2015