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Hardboiled: The Fall of Sam Shadow – Review

It’s not often these days that you see portable doorframes being used to set up a scene, but without them, Hardboiled: The Fall of Sam Shadow might have rattled on for somewhat longer than it does. As it is, it’s well-timed overall, though it began at such a breakneck pace there was only one direction it could go – slower. While the action never actually becomes sluggish, this show inescapably comes across as losing momentum. It’s a bold move to begin so quickly; the pay-off being that things are set up before you know it (it’s not the most straightforward plot in the world), and before you’ve realised it, you’ve sat back and started enjoying proceedings having been so swiftly introduced to all the main players.

Far more characters than listed in the programme are played by the three actors that aren’t playing Sam Shadow (a convincing Julian Spooner). Lighting and smoke effects are produced so economically and without effort to conceal that they can’t help but bring a smile if not an outright laugh to your face. At least once I had a “oh, that’s how they do that” moment. There’s some very inventive and creative staging – a ‘drive’ across Los Angeles was a particular highlight.

All this, then, means I can’t resist a comparison to the stage adaptation of The 39 Steps; this too is very much a dark comedy. Some choreographed moments may appear too melodramatic but do add to the edgy atmosphere of this production, whilst simultaneously providing comic relief. Elsewhere, the choreography in the scene changes ensures a smooth transition, and make the said scene changes a pleasure to watch in themselves.

Some exaggerated caricatures in places give a much lighter hearted air to what become increasingly difficult circumstances for Shadow, though Clifford Addison (Christopher Harrisson) was rather one-dimensional for the most part, far more Mr Hyde than Dr Jekyll. I suppose he’s the opposite of his other half, Scarlett (Jess Mabel Jones), one of those highly astute ladies who in all likelihood could have outwitted Shadow even without flaunting her looks. It’s an admirable performance from Jones, who also doubles up as Shadow’s secretary, Betty, amongst other ‘walk-on’ characters.

There isn’t anything too out of place in this play, even when I couldn’t quite see why on earth certain bits are included – there are even advertisement breaks thrown into the evening’s proceedings! It’s well referenced, with the odd famous line from 1940s classic motion pictures thrown into the mix. Elements of the plot are a tad implausibly modern once fully developed – and do seem very unoriginal; too similar to a particular business scandal that emerged somewhat after the 1940s. It’s like it’s been crowbarred into the play.

I’ve protested before about the use of recorded music in plays that, for me, only usually serves to remind me of a reality television show (take your pick as to which one) where the music swells to artificially heighten emotions. This production, however, demonstrates how it should be done, with suitable music used sparingly such that it complements the play rather than competes with it.

This is an energetic production that never outlasts its welcome. A dynamic and passionate performance, sometimes amusing, sometimes almost heart-breaking, but never dull.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Los Angeles, 1947. Scene 1, take 1.
Sam Shadow sits in his office waiting for his next client. He’s no ordinary private investigator: he’s scourge of the underworld, a man with ice where his heart used to be, the last bastion of morality in LA. Or so he’d like to think.

When the stunning Scarlett Addison walks in, Sam is thrown headlong into a shadowy world of murder, corruption and double crosses. A man’s gone missing, electricity blackouts are more frequent than a loser at a blackjack table and the city’s in chaos. From LA’s dark streets to decadent hillside mansions, the deeper Sam digs the dirtier his hands get, until he discovers the true meaning of being a good guy in a bad world.

Inspired by classic film noirs like The Big Sleep and Chinatown, Hardboiled is a slick and witty journey through a celluloid world of crooked cops, private eyes and femme fatales. Sit down and grab the popcorn, because Sam’s fall is coming and it’s going to hurt like hell.

Rhum and Clay – the Lecoq-trained visionaries behind the cinematic and critically lauded 64 Squares – return to New Diorama Theatre this February with another intrepid experiment in cinematic stage production: pulp-comedy-thriller-noir Hardboiled: The Fall of Sam Shadow.

Hardboiled: The Fall of Same Shadow
Tues 9 – Sat 27 February, 2016


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