The Man in the White Suit review – Wyndham’s Theatre

3 star review

Based on the 1951 Ealing comedy film, this stage adaptation of The Man in the White Suit stars Stephen Mangan as Sidney Stratton, a Cambridge-educated chemist who, while working at a textile mill, develops a fabric that can’t be stained and never wears out.

While writer and director Sean Foley has come up with an inventive and visually impressive production, it’s been cut from so many stylistic cloths that I couldn’t escape the feeling that it was trying too hard to fit everyone.

Foley throws everything into the fast-moving mix: a skiffle band, pyrotechnics, clever stage tricks, a dance number and impressive scene changes. Unfortunately there just aren’t enough big laughs to sew it all together.

The humour lurches from Chuckle Brothers-style lab explosions and fart jokes to satirical swipes about the cheap clothing industry and the now obligatory gags about Brexit. And there’s a sudden moment of violence that seems oddly out of place.

On the plus side Mangan is, as ever, hugely likeable in the role of Stratton and gives his character just the right blend of geekiness, charm and accident-prone enthusiasm, though a running joke about him being Dutch soon wears thin.

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Kara Tointon in The Man in The White Suit (photo: Nobby Clark)

Kara Tointon plays Daphne Birnley, the smart and witty mill owner’s daughter, with an accent so posh that she sounds like a young Margaret Thatcher.

The pair get all the best scenes, including a hair-raising car journey through the countryside and a dance in act two that allows Tointon to show off her Strictly skills.

It’s a shame that Sue Johnston, as Stratton’s friend Mrs Watson, feels so underused.

Michael Taylor’s beautifully detailed set design steals the show. Even the scene transitions earn applause. One minute we are watching the annoyingly chirpy mill workers sinking pints in The Frinley Arms, the next we are in a busy factory full of bubbling and smoking test tubes or the grand interior of Mr Birnley’s mansion.

The songs, by Noah and the Whale’s Charlie Fink, work well too in establishing the 1950s setting, with the on-stage band led by the impressive Matthew Durkan.

Stratton turns from hero to hate figure when both the factory bosses and the workers realise that his invention is likely to put them out of work, and there’s a wider message here about consumerism and big industry’s control over supply and demand.

But the show’s desire to cram in so much material ends with it feeling like an ill-fitting suit in need of adjustment.

The Man in the White Suit is at Wyndham’s Theatre, London, until 11 January 2020

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