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Hutch, Riverside Studios

Joe Evans

Directed by Linnie Reedman

Pros: An interesting story and the music, costumes and set really evoke the atmosphere of the time. The Halbwelt Kultur troupe of chorus girls are a definite highlight– they are fab!
Cons: The drama lacks depth and the second act is a bit lengthy. The performance of the title role isn’t quite dynamic enough to do justice to such a charismatic character.
Our Verdict: In the program, author Charlotte Breese describes Hutch as having ‘a huge personality…a fascinating contradictory human… a classic alpha male’. This performance tells a good story but didn’t quite convey the characteristics that make Hutch such an interesting man.

Courtesy of Ruby in the Dust website
Ruby in the Dust theatre company are in the midst of a slight love affair with the Jazz Age, with a revival of their well received production of The Great Gatsby and Hutch playing at Riverside Studios. Hutch is a biographical musical about Leslie Hutchinson, adapted from the novel by Charlotte Breese.  Known simply as ‘Hutch’,  he was one of the biggest cabaret and variety show stars in the world in the 1930s. He made over 400 recordings, and was a familiar voice on the radio throughout the war. The show opens with Hutch’s involvement with Cole Porter in Paris. Porter is giving Hutch guidance on how to perform, and is encouraging Hutch to mingle with the right society to further his career. There is more than a hint that the two are intimate and involved. The drama then takes us to a Parisian nightclub, where Hutch is introduced to Lord Louis and Lady Edwina Mountbatten, and an affair between Hutch and Edwina ensues. In act two, we are in London, where Hutch has made it and is living a decadent highlife amongst the cream of London society. Despite this success, as a black man he is still required to use the tradesman’s entrance. The affair with Lady Mountbatten is revealed in the press and the King forces her to deny it. Hutch is devastated and there is an ironic twist that this all happens at the same time that Hutch obtains ‘white status’ and is therefore welcomed in society on equal terms.
It’s a good story about a very charismatic man, and could be full of drama. However I feel this aspect of the play is a little lacking. There is a lot of subtext, which could be beefed up to provide a more dynamic experience for the audience. This is the jazz age after all, reputedly full of decadence, sex and scandal, but this is all very softly exposed in this production. There isn’t enough built up, climactic drama to really feel any tremendous impact of the affair going public. Perhaps the drama is somehow lessened by the many musical numbers throughout. Whilst the songs certainly evoke the ambience of the era, they dissipate the tension and dilute the emotional charge that could exist. Perhaps this is a deliberate choice to ensure that, as a musical that aspires to transfer to the West End, it is tame enough to appeal to a wide audience.
There are some strong performances from the cast, most notably Sid Phoenix as Cole Porter. Phoenix saunters and simmers, debonair and decadent – everything I would expect from a character of that era. Nell Mooney as Porter’s wife Linda plays her part with ‘flapper’ flair and conveys the underlying despair that accompanies a woman in her position. Imogen Daines is impressive in her professional stage debut as Lady Edwina Mountbatten, combining regal airs with promiscuous undertones. As Lord Mountbatten, Andrew Mathys recedes against the stronger characters, which is possibly an intentional interpretation of this supporting role. The title role is played by Sheldon Green, who is in his final year of training at Bruford College. Green is a talented musician – he sings and plays the majority of the numbers on the grand piano throughout the performance. Unfortunately Green’s portrayal lacks the oomph and pizazz, the sexual magnetism and machismo that I would expect from Hutch, he is just too proper and nice. There is also an exploration of what it means to be black in 1930s white society, which is delivered without real emotion and his interaction with the rest of the cast feels shallow which undermines the strength of the story of this enigmatic man.
That said, it’s a talented cast from a musical point of view and the familiar songs are enjoyably performed with the exception of a couple of clashing harmonies which could be tightened up a tad. Special mention must go to the smashing chorus girls from The Halbwelt Kultur troupe, who bring the essence of the era to the stage with perfection and add so much to the enjoyment of the performance with their song and dance and audience interaction. They were indeed a highlight of this new musical for me. With some development I can see Hutch evolving into a West End musical, and there is definitely a Gatsby-esque screenplay somewhere in this story of a legend of the jazz age.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Hutch runs at Riverside Studios until 8th June 2013.
Box office: 0208 2371111 or book online at http://www.riversidestudios.co.uk/cgi-bin/page.pl?l=1349705974 

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