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A CurtainUp London Review
The Man in the White Suit

"I know exactly where I went wrong!"
— Sidney Stratton
The Man in the White Suit
Stephen Mangan as Sidney Stratton
(Photo: Nobby Clark)
I hadn't seen the Alec Guinness film, the Ealing Comedy The Man in the White Suit so I had no expectations of this stage version of the same name. I suspect though that Sean Foley's comic footprint is all over the older screenplay, and as funny as he could be, I cannot see Alec Guinness with his Obi Wan Kenobi voice being the mischievous clown that Stephen Mangan is. I have decided to see the film but not until after the review is written.

Set in a Northern pub, The Trimley Arms, strong working class women tease young men, and one young man in particular, a Cambridge graduate scientist Sidney Stratton (Stephen Mangan). I was reminded of the tales of the Sheffield buffer girls working in the Yorkshire flatware factories whose initiation rites on young men should have started a "Me Too" movement for their hapless victims.

A three piece band play skiffle, the brand of rock that preceded Billy Hayley. "He's gonna make the world a better place!" is the refrain based on the ambition of the scientist employed in one of the Lancashire fabric mills. A quick switch to the fabric development laboratory in Michael Corland (Ben Deery)'s mill where Sidney Stratton is employed.

Visiting Corland's are another mill owner Mr Birnley (a larger than life Richard Corderey) and his 1950s Finishing School finished daughter Daphne (an unrecognisable Kara Tointon). Birnley has his eye on a dynastic merger with Corland's through a marriage between Daphne and Corland. Michael Corland is desperate for a large injection of capital and hoping Mr Birling will provide, but as a dowry for Daphne?

Back in the mill laboratory, every few minutes the chemical equipment has a mini explosion as Sidney tells us he has almost found his solution. I found these experimental pyrotechnics hilarious and how the theatre smoke alarms didn't go off is a mystery.

A major blast leaves Sidney and a lab assistant with half their clothes blown off and a blackened face and shredded trousers in a quick change master stroke. Mournful music from the Colliery brass bands of the area overstatedly regret the experimental failure. It is very exciting stuff and much better than any of the chemistry I remember at school taught by the very severely named Miss Longbottom.

Sadly that experiment results in Sidney losing his scientist job. Sue Johnson is underused as Mrs Watson, his landlady who takes in yards and yards of washing which completely fill the rear of the stage. Sidney has to augment his income at the town's French restaurant where of course as a Cambridge graduate he has perfect French. Accidental spills into male laps have seriously titillating consequences when trying to mop them up.

Sidney catches Daphne's eye and her Classic red MG A onstage is a car to die for. Contrasting with the authentic shiny red car is a jokey backdrop of dotted white lines on a black moving road with static painted countryside scenery either side. Daphne's driving has bags of verve and Sidney hangs on as the car swerves round a dangerous corner in the manner of the Star Trek crew on a bumpy ride but hanging on just with his arms. The car loses a hub cap and as the set changes to the French restaurant where Sidney earns a crust, a change of scene waiter wittily carries the silver hub out aloft as a tray. It is these small touches of humour that make The Man in the White Suit so very amusing.

A scene change lifts the blinds of L'Excelsior to take us back to the windows of the pub, The Trimley Arms. Sidney has been employed as a porter at Birnley's Mill and will use this employment in subterfuge to carry on until his work comes to fruition. He walks into the pub wearing the iconic white suit.

After the interval, the mill tycoons gather, headed by Sir John (Richard Durden) to buy Sidney's invention but he wants to clothe the world. There is some topicality about breaking the law for the sake of the country and a mention of proroguing Parliament. Daphne is called in to seduce Sidney and Kara Tointon uses all her Strictly Come Dancing charms in a vampish dance in her black and revealing underdress. Stephen Mangan's Sidney cannot resist and they dance a brilliantly comic tango and cha cha cha.

Back to the cheap but cheerful scene changes and after abseiling down the tower at Birnley Manor (you can guess what really moves) a miniature Sidney is chased by an equally miniature angry throng through the winding roads of the town to the sound of skiffle.

Stephen Mangan is at his most likeable with a natural clowning ability, tousled hair and a charming grin and this is most definitely his show. Kara Tointon may have been studying Clare Foy in The Crown as she is the perfect 1950s debutante and her dance talent is put to good use with that strange received pronounciation of posh girls in the 1950s. Her frocks are straight off the pages of 1950s "Vogue".

Bravo Sean Foley and Stephen Mangan for an evening so full of pleasure I'd pay to go again and take the whole family!

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The Man in the White Suit
Written and directed by Sean Foley
Based on the play The Flower Within the Bud by Roger MacDougall
Starring: Stephen Mangan, Kara Tointon, Sue Johnston, Richard Cordery, Richard Durden, Ben Deery
With: Delroy Atkinson, Kate Bernstein, Matthew Durkan, Rina Fatania, Oliver Kanderbhai, Eugene McCoy, Elliott Rennie, Katherine Toy
Design: Michael Taylor
Music and Lyrics: Charlie Fink
Lighting Design: Mark Henderson
Sound and incidental music: Ben and Max Ringham
Choreographer: Lizzi Gee
Fight Director: Alison de Burgh
Musical Arrangements: Phil Bateman
Running time: Two hours with an interval
Box Office: 0844 482 5151
Booking to 11th January 2020
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 8th October 2019 performance at Wyndham's, 32-36 Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0DA (Tube: Leicester Square)
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