The Front Page

Wednesday, 31 December, 1997

The story is set in the pressroom of a Chicago Criminal Court and concerns Hildy Johnson, a news reporter for the Herald Examiner. Hildy has announced to his boss and colleagues that he is quitting his job and moving to New York to get married. However, Earl Johnson, a murderer on death row, escapes just before he is about to be executed, but Hildy knows where he is hiding. So now he cannot possibly leave while he has the chance of this scoop of a lifetime.

This comedy is without doubt an acquired taste. While most people around me were laughing, I was trying to work out what they were laughing at! The first act crawled along with a lot of uninteresting and unfunny conversations among a very large cast (this play has a cast of 20). The play only comes alive near the end of the act when the prisoner escapes. The 2nd act improves considerably, particularly when Walter Burns, the editor of the Herald Examiner ' finally comes on the scene. Hildy and Walter have worked together for 15 years and have a kind of love hate relationship. They are forever falling out, but you could sense that deep down they have a respect for each other and a strong bond of friendship exists between them. Unfortunately, this play fails to exploit the relationship to its full potential.

Although I found the play unfunny, it was nevertheless well acted. Having said that, Griff Rhys Jones who plays Hildy Johnson just could not shake off that look of his which I have seen so often when he has been on TV. The same goes for Alun Armstrong, who sounded and acted just like Willy Loman, the character he played in 'Death of A Salesman' at the National theatre last year. But this aside they were still convincing in their roles. There is also a fine performance from Christopher Benjamin, as the Mayor who would bribe anybody to get what he wanted. Also worth mentioning is the talented Adam Godley who plays Bensinger, a wimp press man who likes to keep everything tidy. The very few laughs I had involved him.

The set design by Mark Thompson works well in the confined space of this small theatre. The set, a pressroom in the 20s, looks very authentic. Other designs by Mark include "Art" at the Wyndham's, "Insignificance" at the Donmar, and Company at the Donmar and Albery theatres.

Judging by what the popular press had to say about the show, I think I must have been in the wrong theatre!! JOHN PETER of THE SUNDAY TIMES says the "Donmar Warehouse have come up with another winner." The headline to the review by BILLY HAGERTY of THE NEWS OF THE WORLD reads, "Such A Witty Paper Chase". Bill goes on to say "It's one show that won't let you down." PETER HEPPLE of THE STAGE says" A fast-moving delight from beginning to end". JANE EDWARDS of TIME OUT called the play a "Blistering production". At least NICHOLAS DE JONGH of THE EVENING STANDARD was a little luke warm. The headline to his review read "Pressing farce lacks true pace and panic". However, he still gave it a good rating.

Lasting over two and half-hours The Front Page was too much for me. I'm sure this was because the humour was not my cup of tea! Some of the audience gave the cast a standing ovation at the end, and I heard many of them muttering how much they liked it as they were leaving. So all I can say is pop down to the Donmar and either end up laughing or crying!

(Darren Dalglish)

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