Theatre review: Sweet Smell of Success at the Arcola Theatre

11:14 22 November 2012

Don’t be surprised to see this absorbing musical take the West End by storm one day, writes Tim Wyatt

The Sweet Smell of Success is a fast-paced and intense tale of the corrupting effect of power, staged against the glamour of high society in 1950s New York.

JJ Hunsecker is a newspaper columnist with the power to make and break the reputations of the New York elite and has the whole of America eating out of his hand. He takes Sidney Falcone, a failing press agent, under his wing on the condition he keeps an eye on his sister Susan, who is enamoured with a little-known piano player called Dallas. We follow Sidney as he is drawn in by JJ’s power and success and used as the vengeful columnist’s tool to destroy people who cross him and keep New York dancing to his tune.

David Bamber delivers a throatily red-blooded portrayal of the scheming JJ, but it is the music that really takes the Arcola Theatre’s production to the next level. Driven forward by an exciting jazz score performed by a tight seven-piece band, the musical numbers are superb and are capped by some exceptional vocal performances, notably Stuart Matthew Price as Dallas. The brash and bold choreography grabs the attention and instantly transports the audience to the glitz of 1950s New York.

The show maintains its grip on the audience despite the twists and turns of the plot to the very end. Performed in a sparse set and with a small cast, director Mehmet Ergen’s production nonetheless convinces and enthralls. Don’t be surprised to see this Broadway hit - the American production was nominated for seven Tony Awards - take the West End by storm one day. High quality musical performances and a story full of absorbing drama make Sweet Smell of Success a recipe for excellent theatre.

* Sweet Smell of Success is at the Arcola Theatre, Ashwin Street, E8, until December 22.

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