Writers: Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman
Adapter: Christopher Hart
Director: Richard Jones
Reviewer: Tom Finch
Richard Jones’ revival of the Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman Hollywood satire Once in a Lifetime follows the fortunes of three Vaudevillians who head west having smelled profit in the burgeoning ‘Talkie’ film industry.
In an era of great upheaval in a young Hollywood it seems no one really knows what they’re doing. As the movie studio owner puts it: “Why waste time thinking about things?”
The three hapless Vaudevillians arrive in Hollywood and come up with a plan to teach elocution lessons to former silent film actors despite having no knowledge of this themselves. Kevin Bishop’s Jerry and Claudie Blakley’s May are the brains of the operation while John Marquez’s George is mostly just a liability. Bishop, Blakely and Marquez give good performances but it’s hard to really warm to them. Their first couple of scenes feel overly long and a little languid. The script does show its age with a lot of gags feeling stale with the oversaturation of TV comedy that has come since.
The star billing is given to Harry Enfield in the cameo role of the studio owner, Glogauer. He shuffles across the stage ranting and raving with a somewhat understated performance.
Among the supporting cast there are some wonderful comic performances. Lizzy Connolly’s Susan Walker is a naive, country bumpkin who against all the odds makes it into the limelight. Amanda Lawrence gets the biggest laughs of the night as the somewhat a senile receptionist Miss Leighton.
Hyena Shin’s revolving set, which cuts off two-thirds of the playing area, seems at odds with the comic potential of the piece and, as a result, much of Jones’ production feels cramped and cumbersome. The first act feels unnecessarily slow with very few big laughs. Things do pick up somewhat in the second act but it never hits the giddy highs of great comedy.
It feels like there is a brilliant satire here just aching to get out of the can. Maybe some of the extraneous Act One material should have been left on the cutting room floor.
Runs until 14 January 2016 | Image: Alistair Muir