Edinburgh Fringe 2011
Hugely ambitious adaptation of a classic 70’s British Gangster book that misses the mark by a whisker in the playing of it and by a mile in the required budget
Any company that attempts to storm
Jonathan Holloway, the adaptor of Ted Lewis’ novel “Jack’s Return Home” and, to my surprise, not the 1971 movie starring Michael Caine, is no stranger to complex adaptations of both books and movies, many of which have been hugely successful. Interestingly, he is not credited as a co-director of this piece and I can’t help wondering if it would have benefited from his experience. As it is, the adaptation is convoluted and slightly porous and James Weisz’s direction does not quite succeed in bringing all the strands together coherently.
It is a difficult story to tell. From what I could gather, a gangster seeks answers for his brother’s sudden and suspicious death and opens a Pandora’s Box of racketeering, child pornography and gangland grudges. One reveal is too fleeting and too poignant to give away, suffice, it explains why our main man – Jack Carter – valiantly and stylishly played by Nick Bartlett – is so bent on getting to the root of the problem and why his venom is so evident.
For a start, this is not really a nice world to spend nearly two hours in. It is, literally, unpleasant and littered with unpleasant low-lifes that one finds hard to care about. The key to making it work then is to provide us with such well drawn and believable characters that we do care enough to lap up the storyline. Unfortunately, I was unable to generate enough empathy to get there.
There is no faulting the actors’ commitment. It is there in spades. The multi-character and multi-costume requirement is large, but it is not aided by ill fitting costumes and questionable style. It is, of course, hard to kit out twenty authentic costumes for ten actors perfectly tailored without a big wardrobe budget and a very able designer, both of which I think are missing here. Some costume choices were distracting.
The stylised nature of the performances were also inconsistent and seemingly informed by the Caine or similar period films. This is understandable as "Seventies London Gangster" has to be as valid a style as, say, "Restoration Comedy" though it is not taught in drama schools. Some characterisations were thus either overdone or underdone. The inconsistency is all.
Because of budgetary constraints the set pieces appeared cheap and thrown together (rather than designed coherently) with blankets and throws and pull out beds being handled, sometimes clumsily by the cast often in the dark… again, a necessity called for by the filmic quick scene change nature of the adaptation. And it is important, when portraying the drinking of scotch for the liquid to look like scotch instead of something akin to Iron-Brew, or a non-alcoholic beer instead of something brown and cloudy in a pint glass. Such things become horribly distracting and needlessly divert attention.
Finally, the adaptation itself is almost too filmic in its use of blackouts and scene resets and makes too much use of voice-over and actor asides to impart narrative that would do better to be more integrated into dialogue itself rather than stuck on to make the play work.
In summation, this is not a car-wreck, but a production that, with some judicious dramaturgy, serious set design and costuming and direction that co-ordinates the actors’ style, specificity and approach with that of the play, could bloom into something really good. There is a huge amount of talent and goodwill in evidence here along with some serious ambition but, given the production in its current state, notwithstanding the actors’ undoubted commitment to the cause, it is at best a three star show.