Sedos is the City of London’s premier amateur company, and, to end their three week season at the Bridewell Theatre, they have ambitiously chosen to do the musical “A Man of No Importance”.
Based on the 1994 film of the same name, with Albert Finney in the leading role, the musical has a book By Terrence McNally, music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, the same team responsible for the Tony Award winning “Ragtime”. McNally is of course a successful playwright himself, responsible for such successes as “Love! Valor! Compassion!”, “The Lisbon Traviata”, “Masterclass” and “Corpus Cristi”, and most, though not all, of his work is gay themed or of gay interest. “A Man of No Importance” is no exception, and centres on the character of Alfie Byrne, a softly gentle Irishman, passionate about the work of Oscar Wilde, who lives with his sister in 1964 Dublin. A closeted homosexual, harbouring a secret love for his colleague, Robbie, Alfie throws himself into staging an amateur production of Wilde’s “Salome” at the local church hall, but comes into conflict with the church leadership when they discover the nature of the play. During the course of the show, he struggles with his sexuality and with temptation, faces disapproval from those he considers his friends, and finally enjoys reconciliation, when they accept him for who he is. McNally’s script is, as you would expect, masterful.
It is a tale with possibly a little too much Oirish charm and whimsy for my taste, but its very gentle lyricism does eventually draw you in. Not especially memorable musically, there is one stand out ballad, (Princess), beautifully sung in this production by Sarah Shepherd, who plays Adele, the new girl who is given the part of Salome. Another high point is the lovely, humorous, but gently moving song, The Cuddles Mary Gave, given a touching performance by Paul Francis as Baldy. However the show is very much an ensemble piece, and it seems invidious to single out single performances, when there really isn’t a weak link in the cast.
Matt Gould’s direction was clear and efficient, though I thought the choreography of Sarah Evans a little confused, whilst acknowledging the difficulties inherent in moving a large number of people around in a small space. Musical director Inga Davis-Rutter skilfully managed her, presumably, paired down band of players. She also must have spent hours rehearsing the choral numbers, which were cleanly and brilliantly sung.
All in all, however, the show stands or falls on the performance of the main character, the Man of No Importance, Alfie Byrne. It is not an easy part to play. Playing a quiet, unassuming character never is, and for the first half hour or so I did wonder if James Franey was overdoing the Irish whimsy. By the time he sang his big number,The Man in the Mirror, he was fully engaged in his role and we with him. This was opening night, and his performance can only get stronger as the week goes on.
The Man of No Importance runs until the end of the week at the Bridewell Theatre just off Fleet Street and, though maybe not of the calibre of a professionally staged production in London’s West End, it is at least the next best thing. Congratulations to all involved.