Review – A Man Of No Importance, Union Theatre

Monday 23 November 2009

Phil couldn’t make this one. He claimed he was off to a thanksgiving dinner but it was Andrew who was most thankful.

For Phil may have found himself on the horns of a terrible dilemma here. On the one hand he would have been thrilled with the food on stage: a spaghetti meal and a dance number involving strings of sausages but on the other hand there was a park bench in Act II. And even though this was technically a cemetery bench it was the kind of outdoor furniture which generally raises his hackles.

These, however, are concerns which probably did not pass through the minds of lyricst/composer Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty or Terrence McNally* who wrote the book of A Man Of No Importance based on a 1995 film.

Film, of course, being pronounced “fillum” as it is set in Dublin. Andrew had worried that it was all going to be a bit Riverdance. But on the whole it wasn’t.

It’s 1963 and bus conductor Alfie’s life is dedicated to running an amateur theatre group which meets in St. Imelda’s Church hall but the church takes a dim view of his decision to present Oscar Wilde’s Salome and when Alfie becomes the victim of queer bashing/mugging, it seems his life will fall apart.

Once more the Union punches above its weight. Director Ben De Wynter delivers a slick and charming production with an infeasibly large cast (17!) working with an infeasibly small orchestra of three. And yet it all works. It’s even got some funny bits, the funniest by far being an attempt to choreograph the dance of the seven veils in tap. Paul Clarkson is superb as Alfie and there’s top notch support all round but Andrew was particularly impressed by the voice of Patrick Kelliher (the object of Alfie’s unrequited love) and Jamie Honeybourne‘s comic turn as Ernie Lally.

A most impressive production. And yet.  And yet….

Andrew can’t help feeling he’s suffering from Gay Theatre Overload. It does seem that you can’t move for gay characters on  the London stage at the moment: Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, Public Property, La Cage Aux Folles, Prick Up Your Ears and The Habit Of Art, Cock, Priscilla Queen Of the Desert and The Shawshank Redemption (at a stretch) follow hot on the heels of The Fastest Clock In the Universe and  Cloud Nine. Bringing up the rear will be The Little Dog Laughed and Rope.

Indeed Andrew is starting a campaign to address the issue of the over-representation of gay men in plays and musicals. His lobby group The Campaign for Less Over-representation of Gays (CLOG) will aim:

a) To educate playwrights about alternative heart-wrenching emotional shame-inducing secrets that make people outcasts from society – such as fancying Jedward.

b) To increase the representation of lesbians on the stage although this will mostly consist of persuading Sonia Friedman  to revive The Killing Of Sister George with someone fabulous in the Beryl Reid role such as Sian Phillips or Beverly Klein. An appeal to the Twitterverse also came up with these suggestions: Sandi Toksvig (from @garethabbit) and Pauline McLynn (“Ah gwan, gwan Childie, let me see your t*ts….”) suggested by @chrispoppe. Update: and Amanda Lawrence (@postculturist), Claire Higgins (@schiaparelli)


*This is, incidentally, the team behind Ragtime, currently enjoying a Broadway revival.


4 Responses to “Review – A Man Of No Importance, Union Theatre”

  1. Sir Andrew Lloyds Credit Crunch Says:

    I was ‘lucky’ enough to see the last major touring revival of ‘Sister George’. Miriam Margolyes played the Beryl Reid role. The designer had unwisely decided to give the sets a very strong forced perspective, and therefore all I remember about the production was that when Childy (Serena Evans) popped her head through the upstage hatch it looked like we’d suddenly arrived in Land of the Giants: the Stage Show. (I’m sure you’ll agree this is a fascinating anecdote.)

  2. Richard Says:

    Well done for focusing on the, um, flurry of gay men on stage, when elsewhere there is little sign of other forms of human life. You’d think that by now Messrs Bennett and Hare would have challenged themselves to write more than (respectively) one and three women’s role(s) in their recent magna opera.

  3. ms.marple investigates Says:

    Of course the best Sister George ever was the 1988 revival starring Pat Butcher and Sam Fox with a special ‘guest’ appearance by Mrs Thatcher as Mercy. When Sam reappears from celebrity jungle it is rumoured she will be playing George alongside Katy Perry (she Kissed A Girl, apparently) with Sue Perkins dragged up in corset and stilettos to give Mercy an outing. It is likely the play will run back to back (or front to front) with The Children’s Hour as part of Sam Mendes 2011 Bridge Project…

  4. David Says:

    I’m not quite sure how you come to see an “over representation of gay men” in the west end at present? I can only assume that you’ve not had the time to whinge about Chicago, Billy Elliot, Wicked, Mamma Mia, We Will Rock You, Hairspray, Legally Blonde, Sister Act, Thriller, Blood Brothers, Dirty Dancing, Dreamboats and Petticoats, Grease, Jersey Boys, Les Mis, Love Never Dies, Phantom of the Opera, Oliver, The Lion King, An Inspector Calls, Enron, Jerusalem, Nation, The Mousetrap, The Woman in Black, Private Lives, Six Degrees of Seperation, The 39 Steps, The Caretaker, War Horse, anything at the Globe, The Power of Yes, Twelfth Night, Waiting for Godot….. and countless others.

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