Southwark Playhouse, London
Music by Dylan Schlosberg
Book & lyrics by Michael Conley
Inspired by the novel by Jack Engelhard
Directed by Charlotte Westenra
Drawn from the novel by Jack Engelhard, Adrian Lyne’s movie of Indecent Proposal was a 1993 blockbuster. Fast forward 28 years and in an ambitious roll of the dice, Michael Conley re-works Engelhard’s original, moving the narrative from Las Vegas to the eastern seaboard’s Atlantic City, re-naming all the characters and stamping his own (albeit diminutive) imprimatur on Engelhard’s plot.
Conley’s take on the fable tells of Jonny and Rebecca a young married couple, deeply in love but financially on the rocks until billionaire businessman Larry offers them a million dollars if he can spend one night with Rebecca. Back in its day the movie worked for a multitude of reasons - not least the credibility of its brightly photographed Vegas, full of slot machines and tables and gluttonous greed, an environment where for the mega-rich or the deeply addicted, a million-bucks coin toss or indecent proposal was as believable as it was horrific.
But for a show (or a movie) to tell a million-dollar story, it needs a million-dollar budget and for all the abilities of this show’s talented cast, the audience’s disbelief is never truly suspended. Maybe if tonight’s stage had been the West End’s Palladium, awash with a casino’s twinkling tackiness of noise and sparkling lights, rather than the Southwark Playhouse, the illusion may well have worked. It takes a certain skill to transform south London's Newington Causeway into a sin city and although its been done before, it doesn’t happen here. Likewise if Conley with Dylan Schlosberg had maybe written just one memorable song, that too would have helped.
When the chips are down however, it is down to Charlotte Westenra's cast to turn in platinum-plated performances and they all come up trumps. Norman Bowman’s Jonny is a perceptive take on a man being forced to consider the ultimate in emasculating cuckoldry, while Lizzie Connolly as Rebecca is equally skilled in a role that demands considerable emotional complexity. Opposite them is Ako Mitchell’s Larry, a magnate who believes that everything and everyone has their price. Essentially a two-dimensional villain, Mitchell throws Larry’s amorality into a horribly plausible relief. Alongside this triumvirate is the also excellent Jacqueline Dankworth as Annie, the casino’s world-weary chanteuse who turns out to be quite possibly the most believable character in the piece.
Viewed through the modern prism of a post #MeToo perspective, the film was a period piece that treated a woman's body as a buyable commodity and in the show’s programme notes Conley makes the arrogant confession of never having seen Lyne's movie. If this musical is to go on to any form of future life it needs a major structural overhaul alongside a respectful understanding of quite what made the movie the box-office success that it then was. The show's producers and creatives should also recognise that nearly 30 years on, what makes for entertainment, has changed.
Runs until 27th November
Photo credit: Pamela Raith