How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying at Wilton’s Music HallCultureTheatre
The musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying promises entertainment with the title alone, and when the setting is as charming as Wilton’s Music Hall, London’s oldest venue of its kind, the night is guaranteed to be satisfying. In truth, the magical atmosphere of the hall is a little at odds with the mood of a musical about “the science of getting ahead”, but the overall experience is for the most part unaffected by this dissonance.
J Pierrepont Finch is a New York window cleaner who reads the book that gives the title to the show and decides to follow its instructions to the letter. He soon finds himself working for the World Wide Wicket Company, where he does everything to impress the big boss JB Biggley, competes with Biggley’s arrogant nephew, and is romantically involved with secretary Rosemary Pilkington. The ten-strong cast carry the story with wonderful flair and Marc Pickering is totally at ease in the lead role.
Frank Loesser’s musical numbers are played by a skilled band placed above the action, behind a screen, where they can be seen without distracting. It would be difficult to steal the attention from the cast anyhow, as their brightly coloured, carefully matched costumes are incredibly striking. The set only consists of two office lifts at the back and the space is filled with movable desks and office props, but every object has its purpose and is put to good use.
Based on the 1952 satirical book of the same name by Shepherd Mead, the piece was first performed in 1961 and it has not seen many revivals since. The unashamedly sexist material and the embracing of capitalist principles may perplex the audience at first, but a tongue-in-cheek tone can be detected, and the musical gains value when it reveals itself to be a critique of the vacuous goals of career-ladder climbing.
While the story makes for an entertaining show and elicits laughter, a darker layer is exposed with the realisation that the harsh and superficial reality depicted does not differ much from the modern-day approach to life. Office politics, bitter competition, an obsession with money and status, nepotism and the belittling of women may manifest in different ways now, but they are all issues still very likely to be encountered. Sadly, the 50-year-old content has not aged much, and only the costumes point to a different time in history.
The cinematic approach to the staging creates some distance between cast, venue and audience, but the talent of the actors and musicians makes this an exhilarating, thought-provoking production that presents a very strong statement if one can catch its satiric tone.
Photos: Darren Bell
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is at Wilton’s Music Hall from 8th until 22nd April 2017, for further information or to book visit here.