The Tailor-Made Man at the White Bear Theatre
The White Bear Theatre’s exhilarating 25th anniversary presentation of The Tailor-Made Man could not have been more timely given the recent outbreak of exposés on Hollywood’s brutal history of impropriety. The story of William “Billy” Haines (depicted by Mitchell Hunt), an emerging movie star of the 1920s with a million-dollar smile and polished all-American good looks, must not be forgotten as his struggle is one that plagues the entertainment industry to this day.
His career was cut short following revelations of his homosexuality by production titan MGM’s homophobic studio boss, Louis B Mayer (expertly played by raspy, veteran actor Dean Harris). In an act of vengeance upon hearing the news of Haines’s latest “indecent” act, Mayer ordered the destruction of his stills, threw his films into a vault, and wiped out almost every trace of his career from showbiz history.
The play begins with a fast-paced scene chock-full of the glamour and glitz of 1920s Hollywood. In marvellously authentic costumes (which earned the production one of four Offies nominations), the cast lures the audience into a multi-faceted, picturesque clip straight out of the backstage of a silent film. In fact, the piece is essentially a collection of such clips separated by shouts of “Cut!” and “Action!” and derived from the story of Haines’s life through a documentary-like recollection by his lifelong partner, Jimmie Shields (Tom Berkeley).
The cast of this Off-West End production give audiences a magnificent performance – one that we would only expect on the centre stage of London’s finest theatres. Love, heartbreak, scandal and seduction are just the tip of the iceberg in Claudio Macor’s play, and the actors chosen for this adaptation could not have been more perfectly suited for their roles.
Every single character is depicted remarkably on-point, from the beaming glow of stardom oozing off of Hunt’s portrayal of Haines, to the electrifying performances by Rachel Knowles, whose talents are evidently never-ending as she takes on multiple roles as Carole Lombard and Pola Negri; and Yvonne Lawlor’s enigmatic and hilarious Marion Davies. In the minor roles of producer Irving Thalberg, multiple butlers, and even a charming, trouble-making sailor, Peter Dewhurst shines along with Edwin Flay’s depiction of Howard Strickling, and Henry Felix as scriptwriter Victor Darro.
The presentation is not only flawless in its execution, which says a lot given the show’s difficult start-and-stop nature, but the actors are so deeply in character that one could not help but feel the same awe they would experience had they been real-life Hollywood superstars. If there is only one fringe-theatre production to see in London this month, it has to be Bryan Hodgson’s The Tailor-Made Man.
The Tailor-Made Man is at the White Bear Theatre from 7th until 25th November 2017. For further information or to book visit the White Bear Theatre website here.