His Girl Friday is an adaptation of Ben Hecht’s & Charles MacArthur’s classic American comedy of the 1920’s “The Front Page” about a Chicago newspaper editor desperate to keep his best star [male] reporter on his paper by trying every trick in the book to stop him from marrying and leaving town. The play was later re-written as an even more successful film “His Girl Friday” where the journalist was now transformed into a woman, the editor’s ex-wife adding a romantic element to the plot. John Guare has now combined and reworked these two plots for this modern production of “His Girl Friday”, added a few new elements, and come up with a script full of witty, quick firing one-liners just like the two original works it is based on.
The two leading actors Alex Jennings as newspaper editor Walter Burns and Zoe Wanamaker as star journalist Hildy Johnson give great comic performances. Alex Jennings shines as the wise cracking, self-assured and charmingly mischievous editor, who whilst bantering that he will do anything for a story, is also concerned about getting to the truth, though thankfully he avoids wearing his journalistic heart on his sleeve, and so never comes across as sanctimonious. He lies, charms, flirts and cajoles with natural ease and fantastic comic timing. Zoe Wanamaker also excels as the feisty Hildy Johnson, who has a love hate relationship with her former husband and employer Walter Burns. Though she is tough, always one ahead of the gang of reporters who she competes with for the front-page story, and is willing to use force as an interview technique, she never ever loses her femininity. Zoe Wanamaker is amongst our best comedy actresses (though not only comedy) and she uses her looks of exasperation, her voice of disdain, and small physical gestures -such as the rolling of the eyes, or a scornful flip of the head- to excellent effect.
The supporting cast produce a host of cameo characters, such as David Ross as the incompetent corrupt Sheriff Hartman who surrounds himself with his cronies and Harry Towb, as the sleazy Mayor who is willing to break any law in order to swing the election in his favour. And Margaret Tyzack almost steals the show with her portrayal of Mrs Baldwin, the cantankerous mother-in-law to be.
The director Jack O’Brien keeps the show rushing along and we are inundated with one zany character after another without allowing the show to degenerate into slapstick farce.
Sadly, though I enjoyed the show I never felt I was watching a really great comedy. As good as the performances were by Zoe Wanamaker and Alex Jennings the show itself never quite fired on all cylinders.
Production photo by Catherine Ashmore
What other critics had to say.....
MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, "A weird hybrid which survives chiefly as a vehicle for Alex Jennings and Zoe Wanamaker." IAN JOHNS for THE TIMES says, "Despite its lulls, there are enough big laughs to make this adaptation great fun." MICHAEL COVENEY for THE DAILY MAIL says, "A delightfully imperfect night out." NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "I was deluged with wave upon wave of comic pleasure." SHERIDAN MORLEY for TELETEXT says, "Great performances from Zoe Wanamaker and Alex Jennings."
External links to full reviews from popular press