An Unexpected Tale in Smoky Midtown – Camden Fringe, Canal Café Theatre

Reviewer: Sonny Waheed

Writer: Amanda Elizabeth Rischel

Director: Rosie Frecker

A mob leader, a detective, a crooked cop, a Russian spy, and a cabaret singer are in a four-gun stand-off in a downtown bar. This is not the start of a bawdy joke, rather the opening of a ‘film noir musical comedy’.

Set in an undefined part of America at an undefined time (though you’d happily wager it was 1920’s Chicago), a down-on-his-luck detective is on the search for his girlfriend, missing since kidnapped at gunpoint by the town’s mob boss. His search is not going to well, and over the course of his quest, he ends up vying for the support of the mob boss’s wife, his ex-partner in the police force (with whom there’s bad blood) and a mysterious and beautiful lady who’s not quite what she seems.

This is the first production from a new company called Stage Noir, consisting of alumni from East 15, a Hatfield based acting school. They’re focussed on developing and producing works that showcase diversity, especially neurotypes. An Unexpected Tale in Smoky Midtown, whose initials spell autism, is a sensory friendly production, which includes low house lights, freedom to leave and return to the auditorium, and no loud noises.

If you like your comedy littered with broken metaphors and similes – ‘like a hedgehog in a hurricane, I was going to have to roll with it’, or ‘I like my alcohol, like I like my men. Fully transparent’ – then you’re in for a fun ride. The comedy here is littered with such lines and, for the most part, they hit the mark.

The story, on the other hand is clichéd and clumsy. The narrative is flabby and unnecessarily sprawling and it takes the narrator, towards the end, to stop proceedings and recap, to put everything into context. The songs, whilst lyrically comical are musically forgettable and break the flow of the story rather than enhance it. They’re not helped by the fact that only a few of the performers have anything close to a singing voice.

This said, the acting performances, across the board, are effective, convincing and exuberant… if a little hammy. There’s a slight am-dram quality about the whole thing, but that, actually, adds to the charm of the overall piece. The young cast and production team deliver an entertaining, if flawed, show. And, at 65 minutes, it certainly doesn’t outstay its welcome.

Reviewed on August 10 2022

The Camden Fringe runs from 1-28 August 2022

The Reviews Hub Score

Mobsters, molls and metaphors!

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