Theatre review: Hutch at Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
16:21 20 May 2013
The story of Leslie ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson promises on paper to be a humdinger.
This was a man who found fame on Broadway in New York, had close encounters with the Ku Klux Klan and then moved to Paris into the affections of songwriter Cole Porter, before further moving to London to indulge in an affair with a married Lady Mountbatten.
In practice, however, it falls someway short of the mark.
While the cabaret dancers from Halbwelt Kultur sing numbers about money being the best aphrodisiac that titillate and amuse, blending into Sheldon Green’s skillful piano playing, the play falls rather flat from here, not helped by the cramped stage.
While Sid Phoenix’s renditions of Cole Porter and speeches about how one must treat an instrument like a lover – teasing it and caressing it and building tension with the audience – raised a smile, little else did.
The emotion, complexity and sexuality of Hutch is said to be key, yet it is clumsily wedged into pieces of dialogue.
The protagonist switches from being ‘undersexed’ to being lip-locked with Lady Mountbatten and pleasing her behind a curtain in the blink of an eye – and the emotion, when it did come, seemed forced.
Despite the apparent intensity of the affair, little sexual chemistry and passion was felt by the actors’ interactions.
Being a black man in 1930s Britain and its high society was no doubt unheard of in its day; this, however, was only touched upon by a couple of uttered lines of ‘tradesman’s entrance’ and a speech that did little to bring the audience into what must have been scandalous.
A series of pivotal events – Hutch’s coming of age, rise to fame, beginning of his affair, his downfall into drink and the end of the affair and subsequent court case – were hard to follow and only through frequent glances at the programme could one work out where in the great man’s life one was supposed to be.
The life of one of the country’s most famous cabaret stars of yesteryear should have been something compelling. Instead, it left you with a feeling of being very much on the outside looking in, not engrossed with the struggles of the time.
Leslie Hutchinson’s life is no doubt worth telling, but not like this.
Hutch is at Riverside Studios, Hammersmith, until June 8 running in rep with The Great Gatsby.