The Man In The White Suit Feels Like A Knock Off One Man Two Guvnors

The Man In The White Suit, Wyndham's Theatre ★★★☆☆

By Londonist Last edited 34 months ago

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The Man In The White Suit Feels Like A Knock Off One Man Two Guvnors The Man In The White Suit, Wyndham's Theatre 3
Photo: Nobby Clark

When a 'much-loved' 'classic' movie is 70 years old, it's OK to stop treating it like holy writ, right? Director Sean Foley had a huge success with The Ladykillers, turning the gentle fifties Ealing comedy into a smart farce. You can't blame him for taking a second bite at the same cherry.

Unfortunately, The Man in the White Suit feels more laboured. The satire in which a Cambridge boffin (Stephen Mangan takes on the Alec Guinness role) discovers an indestructible fabric, which divides capital and labour in a Lancashire cotton mill simply doesn't survive the surgery and dies on the operating table early in Act One.

The 'good bits' are the shift of the plot to 1956 to suit the accompanying skiffle music crafted by Noah and the Whale frontman Charlie Fink and ably played by Matthew Durkan and cast colleagues. Also the relentless willingness of the cast to drop trousers, make fart noises and crash into doors. But, hang on, wasn't the skiffle music and physical comedy what made One Man, Two Guvnors such a hit — this feels like the fourth-flimsy carbon copy bashed out on a fifties Remington.

Photo: Nobby Clark

The portmanteau set, devised by Foley's Ladykillers collaborator Michael Taylor is nifty, folding out into factory, laboratory, pub, road and backyard. It looks pre-designed for provincial touring, possibly sooner than producers anticipate.

The leads work almost desperately hard, and there are moments especially in the second half when Stephen Mangan's sheer niceness might win you over. Hanging out of an MG roadster in a car chase is terrific but just highlights how difficult it is to stage film scenes. As the love interest, Kara Tointon's vowels and determination are a loving homage to the young Margaret Thatcher, and her dance moves, especially with the equally nimble Mangan in the confines of a single bedroom, are a tribute to her Strictly-winning status.

Also borrowing from One Man Two Guvs, there's a bit of fourth-wall breaking, often clumsily by Sue Johnston's phoning-it-in performance as a camp washerwoman, along with some lame political gags about proroguing parliament and Brexit. None of which are half as ironic as the whole production's sneering stereotypes about thick working class northerners, which are worthy of an Islington dinner party.

The Man in the White Suit, Wyndham's Theatre, Charing Cross Road, WC2H 0DA, from £22.50. Until 11 January 2020

Last Updated 11 October 2019