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Theatre review: Cool Hand Luke 
4th-Oct-2011 10:32 pm
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With the amount of shows I go to you might not believe me if I told you that there's still a couple of West End theatres I've never set foot in; if, though, I point out that for the last several years the Aldwych has housed Dirty Dancing: The Musical it might become clearer why I've never darkened its doors until now. Its first production since Baby got put in the corner for the last time is Cool Hand Luke, Emma Reeves' adaptation of Donn Pearce's original novel rather than the film, which for the record I haven't seen. Though whether it would ever have been considered a bankable West End show without the film that made it famous is another story. This is one of those triomakesmehot will be sorry to have missed as she's a Hustle fan and the star power here comes from Marc Warren in the title role of a decorated WWII veteran who vandalises a parking meter and gets two years on a Florida chain gang as a result. Unable to reconcile the fact that he was hailed as a hero for killing people but is now punished for trying to steal some change he rebels against the guards with several escape attempts. Warren is suitably charismatic but the whole thing feels pretty "so what?" Lee Boardman's narrator is the only other character to come even close to having a distinct personality and instead of a story it feels like just a sequence of setpieces. Entertaining enough in the first act, as the guards' behaviour gets ever more sadistic the second act is pretty dull in places.

Sandra Marvin provides a chorus figure, counterpointing Luke's lack of religious faith with snippets of thematically relevant Gospel songs during scene changes. Beautifully sung they may be but the device grows old very quickly. Partly because director Andrew Loudon overuses it - even the shortest pause in the action can't go by without her popping on to sing a few lines. And partly because some of the songs chosen are painfully literal: After Luke sees his mother for the last time Marvin chips in "I feel like a motherless child;" the famous boiled egg-eating scene is interspersed with "feed me Jesus!" This scene itself is cleverly done, and though obviously Warren doesn't eat fifty boiled eggs on stage he eats at least one real one and appeared to eat over a dozen more: I was pretty close (upgraded from the Upper Circle to the Stalls due to low turnout) and it didn't look like sleight of hand so maybe some kind of fake sugar eggs that melt when you put them in your mouth? Elsewhere there's some hilariously bad fight scenes but Matthew Eagland's lighting is fantastic, the blocking taking every opportunity to highlight Warren's strong profile. This is definitely all to do with the lighting, because the alternative involves admitting that Warren looks ten times better at 44 than I did at 24. All things told it's not an awful show but it's terminally lacklustre and I think it's going to struggle to stay open for its full run. At least the good news for triomakesmehot is that she's not missing much.

Cool Hand Luke by Donn Pearce, adapted by Emma Reeves is booking until the 7th of January at the Aldwych Theatre.
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