London’s oldest music hall, Wilton’s, relaunched last night after completion of its multi-million pound restoration programme, by premiering a thriller that was a criminal waste of effort.
The 1973 film of The Sting was a huge success, largely due to its charismatic leads, Robert Redford and Paul Newman.
David Rogers’ lacklustre stage version is a busted flush with leaden performances, unstylish staging and a plot that relies on the audience having a working knowledge of the film.
It is set in 1936 and opens with narrator and chanteuse Nina Kristofferson telling the audience: “You’re going to have to have an imagination”. It was a big ask.
She sets the scene: “Chicago. In the thirties. All the big guys was there – Capone, Schultz, alla them. The cops was on the take, all the politicians, it was beautiful.”
A man sitting next to me looked baffled. “What the hell is going on?” he asked.
Wilton’s Music Hall is a wonderful venue for cabaret or comics but the acoustics let down this production that is heavy on thick Chicago accents. Some cast members are impossible to understand. The almost non-existent set does nothing to soften the sound which coldly echoes in the lofty auditorium.
The situation is made worse by the liberal use of American track-side gambling slang that needs translation for London theatre-goers.
What works fine on film doesn’t necessarily translate successfully to the theatre.
The Sting is a slick crime caper about a couple of grifters pulling off the ultimate con against a gangster.
Small time conmen Johnny Hooker (Ross Forder) and Luther Coleman unwittingly scam a numbers runner working for big time hoodlum Doyle Lonnegan (John Chancer).
The big cheese orders a hit on the pair when he finds out. After Luther’s death Hooker teams up with veteran hustler Henry Gondorff (Bob Cryer) to exact revenge by organising an incredibly ingenious (some would say convoluted and confusing) con against Lonnegan.
But on stage the operation struggles to excite, involve or engage the audience; supporting actors’ accents are poor and there is little magnetism between the leading men. Cryer flashes a knowing smile every now and then but his partner just doesn’t hold all the aces to win as Hooker.
This overly ambitious and disappointing production lacks the flair, confidence and personality of the film.
The Sting plays at Wilton’s Musical Hall until October 17.
On a factual note, Al Capone wasn’t in Chicago in 1936, he was in Alcatraz serving an 11-stretch for tax evasion (’31-’42) while mobster Dutch Schultz died in 1935, a year before The Sting is set.
Wilton’s Music Hall celebrates the completion of its restoration with David Rogers’ stage version of The Sting but this overly ambitious and disappointing production lacks the flair, confidence and personality of the film.