BWW Review: THE MALTESE FALCON at Goodwood Theatre

BWW Review: THE MALTESE FALCON at Goodwood TheatreReviewed by Barry Lenny, Friday 26th April 2019.

Rob Croser, the artistic director of Independent Theatre, now in its 35th year, is always up for a challenge, and he found one in adapting Dashiell Hammett's book, The Maltese Falcon. Although there were two earlier films, the best known and most successful was John Huston's 1941 film noir version, with Humphrey Bogart taking on the role of the hard-boiled gumshoe, Sam Spade, with Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, and Sydney Greenstreet in the other main roles. Croser has brought that film noir flavour to this stage adaptation.

The first thing that we see is David Roach's marvellous art deco set, with two exterior doors either side downstage, two interior doors upstage, and a wall centre rear with a large screen that becomes a range of location defining windows, thanks to a series of projections. The rest is a collection of furnishings that wheel in and out in moments, changing the set as we move around the various places in which the story takes place.

Bob Weatherly's well thought out lighting design, with patches illuminated, sometimes only dimly, and areas in shadow, aids in creating that film noir atmosphere. Sandra Davis and Angela Doherty sourced or made the costumes in the style of the late 1920s, and Diana Buratto was in charge of the props, which included a diverse collection of handguns and, of course, the falcon itself. The overall look of this production had much to do with setting up the time and location, the end of the 20s in San Francisco. Attention to detail is a hallmark of Independent Theatre productions.

Sam Spade, played by Patrick Marlin, is approached by Miss Wonderly, played by Madeleine Herd, who tells him that her sister has run off with a man named Floyd Thursby and she hires Sam and his partner, Miles Archer, to track him down and find out where he is holding the missing young woman. She begs them that one of them take on the job personally, rather then pass it to one of their operatives, and the lustful Archer agrees, subsequently being shot dead in the process.

For the rest of the story, one layer after another of lies is peeled away as Sam investigates, eventually discovering that her real name is Brigid O'Shaughnessy, and how she, Thursby, and another three: Joel Cairo, Wilmer Cook, and Casper Gutman, fit together in the hunt for a small black statuette of a falcon, and why they are all so eager to get their hands on it. They double-cross, triple-cross, quadruple-cross, one another, and more, as each tries to get their hands on the prize. There are enough red herrings to stock several fishmongers' shops.

Marlin has a big role to play, as the story in the book is told with Sam central to everything, this resulting in him having to be onstage for the entire performance. Marlin seemed a little too clean-cut, at first, for the hard-drinking private eye with ready fists, and considerable disrespect for the law, but I eventually became accustomed to this and settled back to enjoy his carefully crafted performance as a rather different style of Spade.

Herd, a familiar face to Independent's audiences, plays the duplicitous femme fatale, Brigid O'Shaughnessy, an accomplished liar with no qualms about using her feminine wiles (read, sex) to get what she wants. Herd is wonderful in the role, displaying the many facets of her character.

The effeminate homosexual, Joel Cairo, is played by Andre Vafiadis, bringing a few lighter moments to the tale. He makes every move and gesture an intimate part of his interpretation of the role, adding to his vocal delivery.

Will Cox displays his versatility as he plays the violent, short-tempered thug, Wilmer Cook, the love interest of Cairo, and hired gun for Gutman. Cox's character presents a highly excitable Cook, who reacts with immense anger and physicality whenever Spade gets under his skin, which he does at every possible opportunity.

Casper Gutman, referred to in the novel as "The Fat Man", the instigator of the hunt for the falcon, an ancient artefact for which he has been searching for many a long year, is played by Stuart Pearce. With his superb diction and measured delivery, there is something almost Dickensian in his dialogue, which admirably suits his educated and refined character, Gutman.

Ashley Merriel plays Sam's secretary, Effie Perine, whilst David Roach, Emma Bleby, and John Oster each take on a number of roles, all adding extra colour through their diverse characterisations.

This is another fine production from Independent Theatre and, be warned, it is selling out quickly.

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From This Author Barry Lenny

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