You could tell straightaway that The Man in the White Suit was going to be a cross between a Carry On film, the Beano and the Keystone Kops. The jokes were silly and the reactionary gurning was awful, yet I still thought this comic strip cartoon that had come to life was jolly good fun, writes Michael Holland.
Accident prone inventor Sidney Stratton wants to make the world a better place by developing a fabric that never needs cleaning and never wears out, via a serious of comedy booms, bangs and explosions in the laboratory where he tries to make his dream come true: ‘I know exactly where I went wrong’ became his mantra as he emerged battered and burnt after each blast. He pontificates in the pub about how his creation will save everyone money and leave time for enjoying life if he is given the opportunity to get his theory right.
However, as each new experiment goes upon in smoke, and with loss of life imminent, Sidney gets fired but then rehired soon after when he miraculously stumbles on the miracle formula. Cue drinks all round in the Trimley Arms and a trip to Blackpool for his landlady. But then reality kicks in, the industrialists don’t want their customer base buying just one of everything, and the workers worked out they would be out of work in six months. Poor Sidney was caught in the middle of the workforce and the capitalists with the boss’s daughter who, having fallen for the nice scientist, helped him escape their wrath.
A chase through town and country ensued with the angry, pitchfork wielding mob hot on his heels. The logistics of this was dealt with by using little cutouts bumping along a simply painted backdrop, which drew one of the few belly laughs of the evening.
Stephen Mangan and the cast all do a good job of what they had to do, and with their own built in band they knocked out the occasional illustrative tune. Even, in one song, rhyming gizmo with machismo, which I was impressed with. Yes, it was that kind of night.
The many sight gags got more laughs than the verbal jokes, which meant that the set, with its drop down MG sports car, and foldaway bedroom, became the star of the show.
The Man in the White Suit is old-fashioned fun. There is no subtlety here, no sardonic wit, it is knockabout, slapstick laughs that would not be out of place on kids’ TV, and that is fine. After a month of plays dealing with apartheid, political scandal, train crashes and hurricane devastation, something as light and breezy as this comfort blanket of a play fitted the bill perfectly. My companion noted, ‘It made you feel safe, you knew you wasn’t going to get hurt or upset.’
Wyndham’s Theatre, Charing Cross Rd, Covent Garden, London WC2H 0DA until 11th January. Times: Monday – Saturday at 7.30pm, Wednesday and Saturday matinees 2.30pm. Admission: £50 – £127.50
Photos: Nobby Clark