The Producers

Needle-and-thread enthusiast LAURIE COLDWELL stitches together a review of a production which is far from seamless.

ADC Festival Players laurie coldwell Mel Brooks The Producers

ADC Theatre, 2nd-11th June,  7.45pm, £8-12

Directed by James Dowson


As a boy, my dear father’s profession required us to move throughout the Three Ridings of Yorkshire across many varied communities. As he was a professional shyster and amateur rapist, we had to move fast and often in disguise, relying on whatever kindness the community we had fled to deigned to give us.

It is the 3 months of 1995 we spent amongst the seamstresses and seamstrons of Cudworth that were to have the greatest influence on my malleable young mind. It impressed upon me the endless beauty of a running-stitch and the gentle eroticism of a discarded thimble that, as a pre-pubescent 8-year-old, I feel lucky to have been able to comprehend.

It is because of this that I was able to take joy in Liz Milway’s excellent, relevant design and her accomplishment in providing at least four costume changes for each and every one of a cast of 30. Which is lucky, because I had little cause for smiles elsewhere in this production.

Written by master-comic Mel Brooks, The Producers went on to sweep the board at the Tonys. It tells the story of Broadway producer Max Bialystock and his accountant Leo Bloom who set out to make the worst play ever produced, reckoning they can make more money from a flop than a hit.

Shenanigans and hijinks reliably ensue, rattling through cracking one-liners and sending up stereotypes towards the surprise hit of their musical extravaganza ‘Springtime for Hitler’ and a delicious rare-in-musical-theatre irony. It is just bloody good.

At the musical’s heart is the double-act of Bialystock and Bloom; everything else revolves around what needs to be a mastering of a comic balance between the two.

Like all great double acts – Eric and Ernie, Laurel and Hardy, the Chuckle Brothers – they need to feed off each other. Bloom needs to be neurotic, panicked and conversely Bialystock should be fiery, greedy and kvetch. Evidence in point: original role-holders Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane kept having to revive their characters in order to revive its success.

Bloom (Guy Woolf) is spot-on, which may be partly due to his seemingly having stolen Gene Wilder’s head from the 1968 film and Holbein-stitched it to his own body, but he is also – unlike his partner – controversially using this face and body to portray emotion and intention.

Bialystock (Paul Garner) seems to have a horrible medical condition wherein he is forced to live two minutes behind the rest of humanity. I wish I’d had an egg to boil for the time between ‘item of dialogue’ and ‘bodily recognition that someone else has finished speaking’, the bodily recognition being Bialystock turning on the spot and wiggling his arms a bit as if indulging in half-arsed tai-chi or nonchalantly juggling coal.

I say bodily, because Garner’s Bialystock has one face for every dramatic occasion. It’s a sort of grinning squint towards the floor, which is also, coincidentally, where he discards all his beautifully-written asides into a black hole of sleepy stage inertia.

Many of the supporting performances seem to have bought a two up, two down in this black hole, happy to live out the duration of the play in a pedestrian trance. And thus James Hayward’s lacklustre Franz and Matt Gregory’s anti-flamboyant Roger de Bris undermine the raison d’être of their characters.

The ensemble did an admirable rescue of the production, forming at least one pillar of solidity for Woolf’s Bloom to lean on. ‘I want to be a Producer’ was therefore a rare moment of brilliance, the dancing and singing in ‘Springtime for Hitler’ superb.

Hold Me Touch Me (Janice Chambers) is the sexiest and wickedest grandma I ever did see and I did a little giggle every time Alan Hay popped up, whatever he was dressed as.

I regret the terrible wastes of the cotton purges of ’04. Not just for the loss of skills and the outlawing of pincushions, but for what director James Dowson could learn from those geniuses I knew and loved in those lazy Cudworth days.

You see, the foot-pedal driven rotary Singer sewing machine is a thing of beauty. But to get an elegant ball gown, you need to press energy down onto the pedal, pay attention to what you’re stitching and where you’re going.

You can use as many exclamation marks as you like in your production notes (¡¡¡6!!!), but if you don’t press energy into your actors (using encouragement or mains electricity), pay attention to what the play is about and where you’re taking it, it doesn’t matter how many sequins or how much lace you attach to it.