Hutch at Riverside Studios
In the same week that Baz Luhrmann’s predictably brash interpretation of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby hits UK screens, London audiences are treated to another story of Jazz Age excess with this new theatrical biography of Leslie “Hutch” Hutchinson.
Leslie Hutchinson was a world famous cabaret star in his day, having found his way from his birthplace of Grenada to Broadway in New York, where he attracted the negative attention of the Ku Klux Klan and then to Paris, where he fell in with Cole Porter. Sharing a mutual admiration for each other’s musicality, they became lovers. Hutch apparently had no shortage of admirers due to his good looks and musical flair and soon found himself in a much more scandalous affair – with a married countess, Edwina Mountbatten.
These two episodes form the basis of a play that sadly wastes what should be an interesting story. The action takes place on a stage that is almost comically cramped, and the narrative is just as clumsily put together. It’s rare that we’re more than half sure about where we are, what’s led to the current situation or who actually wants to be with whom at any given point. In fact there’s barely a single moment where we truly feel any chemistry or warmth between any of the members of the love triangle. The parts are one-dimensionally written and the actors do little to make amends for this.
Furthermore the execution of the songs is generally poor, inadequately serving the legacies of Hutch and Cole Porter. While Sid Phoenix struggles to replicate anything quite like Porter’s famous singing voice, he does bare a slight similarity to him, and that’s more than can be said of Sheldon Green in his portrayal of Hutch. The standout performance comes from Janna Yngwe in the role of Jessie Matthews. She acts and sings with a style and sexuality absent from the performances of the other cast members.
However, the greatest disappointment is that we leave finding we know almost nothing about what kind of person Hutch was. There are a few attempts to include his feelings on racial and sexual politics wedged crudely into the dialogue here and there, but nothing that is remotely personal. The program notes suggest Hutch’s life was extraordinary: not only do we only get a fractured and confused sense of this, we learn nothing whatsoever of what he felt about it all.
Hutch is on at Riverside Studios until 8th June, for further information or to book visit here.