Landor Theatre, London
June 9 2012
Book and Lyrics: Jo Dipietro
Music : Jimmy Roberts
Director : Andrew Keates
As Andrew Keates writes in his programme notes, men are hopeless and imperfect. He is probably not wrong. Fortunately his production of The Thing About Men is the antithesis of hopelessness and imperfection. Luckily I caught the last night of the run.
The storyline of this musical confection is both slight, and at the same time intriguing. The wife of a cheating husband strikes up her own extra-marital affair, and the show then follows her husband as he realises the depth of his love for his wife, and the endeavours he makes to win her back. To say more would be to spoil, and whilst at some times the book stretches credibility, the strength of the shows musical numbers and performances make it a delight to watch.
Peter Gerald and Kate Graham play Tom and Lucy Ambrose , whose failing marriage provides the backdrop to the musical. Gerald is superb, portraying the greying advertising executive with perception. Onstage for most of the show, his is a most demanding role, including a gym workout session that is exhausting to watch, let alone perform! His vocal delivery has an authentic lilt of the eastern seaboard, and his singing is strong. As Lucy, Graham has perhaps a more difficult task. In a show that is at times very funny, her character is played for comparatively few laughs, and amongst a stage of comedians, she sensitively evokes both her having been betrayed and her hesitance before yielding to the passionate desire she feels towards her lover, Sebastian.
As Sebastian, John Addison powerfully portrays an attractive man, who in athleticism and vigour, is everything Tom is not. If I have one minor criticism of the production, it is that the story suggests that Sebastian is of a similar age to Tom , whereas Addison’s character is considerably younger than Gerald’s hapless cuckold. Addison delivers energy to his numbers, and whilst his character is in many ways but a foil to Tom’s journey, he is nonetheless a joy to watch and to listen to.
The libretto demands two further cast members – Man and Woman – who between them play an incredible 26 roles. Steven Webb and Lucyelle Cliffe, represent the best of young musical theatrical talent. Their characters frequently set the tone or background to a scene – far easier on this shows modest budget to arrange a costume change ( one of many, performed with eye-watering speed throughout ) rather than build a complex or laborious set – and their comic voicework combined with excellent singing, impeccable timing, grotesquely stereotyped characters, and physical agility is hilariously delivered. Steven Webb memorably contorts his body to suggest a waiter first descending then climbing, a set of stairs ( where the Landor’s floor remains flat and solid throughout )
And as is so often the way at this delightful little theatre, the production values that Keates espouses ring true throughout the performance. The scenery is simply and cleverly evoked by Martin Thomas. Howard Hudson’s lighting similarly gives an added dimension to the simple confines of the venue. Joanna Cichonska cleverly directs the three piece band, to provide an accompaniment of perfect pitch . Even the programme makes for an excellent read!To return to the programme notes, Keates suggests that The Thing About Men seeks to understand the way men work. In part he is not wrong. The show is a delightful study of one man's weaknesses, and how, amongst much hilarity, he actually finds a path to some ( OK , cheesy) redemption. Should this production return to Clapham or elsewhere, don’t miss it.