Thomas Ovans enjoys an evening at the theatre which recalls a golden age of cinema.


Hardboiled – The Fall of Sam Shadow.  New Diorama Theatre, Regent’s Place, London NW1 3BF


It is not easy to write a performance piece that has a light touch and yet says something serious.  But this is what the Rhum & Clay Theatre Company and director Beth Flintoff have attempted in Hardboiled – The Fall of Sam Shadow currently at the New Diorama Theatre.  A cast of only four plays around a dozen parts in this piece which seeks to recreate the feel of a 1940s Hollywood noir film – and does so successfully thanks to skilful use of music and lighting plus imaginative set design (David Harris) and the actors’ energetic and elegantly choreographed set changes which go some way to mimicking the rapid scene shifts that are possible on screen.

There is no doubt that this is a tongue in cheek production (rather than an out and out thriller) intended to provoke a smile of recognition at the movie-aesthetic of the Humphrey Bogart / Raymond Chandler era.  But at the same time as being an exercise in nostalgia, the play does make a serious point.  The corruption scam into which the play’s hero is drawn – by, of course, a beautiful fur-draped woman – is essentially the same as that perpetrated in real life by Enron some fifty years after the time in which this play is set.  So while we might smile indulgently about ‘dated’ dramatic conventions we need to be reminded that conventions in financial probity have not moved on so rapidly – at least not in a good direction.

Apart from a minor reservation that the performance loses pace once or twice and hence feels a little over-long, this is generally a most enjoyable and engaging evening.  Julian Spooner is the only performer to have the luxury of mastering just a single role: but, as Sam Shadow, he is on stage virtually throughout the performance and does well as a man keeping his emotions in check while coping with confusion and betrayal and trying to live up to the reputation of his private-eye father.   It is left to Christopher Harrisson and Matthew Wells to tackle all the other male parts – villains, policemen, informants and the like – and both do well to differentiate, by accent and posture, between the various characters they have to assume in fairly rapid succession.  Jess Mabel Jones takes on all the female roles, ranging from Sam Shadow’s devoted secretary Betty to the glamorous and enigmatic Scarlett and including reporters, radio announcers and a delightful cameo as a gushing telephonist/receptionist.

The show is playing only until February 27th but it is well worth trying for a last-minute booking.