I had high hope that Richard Jones’s revival of Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman’s hit Broadway comedy Once in a Lifetime (Young Vic), adapted by Christopher Hart, would provide a hilarious satire on the film industry but in the event it proved a major disappointment.
The story is set in a 1930s Hollywood at the advent of talking pictures. Three vaudevillians, George, May and Jerry Hyland find there is no longer a future performing to empty houses while crowds line up outside movie theatres to watch the new phase of “talking pictures”, the premiere of The Jazz Singer starring Al Jason. May suggests the trio take their once in a lifetime chance, pack their bags and head for Hollywood, where they can open an elocution school to rake in the industry talent, now in need of vocal instruction. Their misadventures see them get mixed up within the studio politics resulting in the hapless and dimwitted George becoming head of the corporation, shooting the wrong script and filming without the lights on.
As his incompetence is commended, much of the humour rests in the combination of physical comedy and situation based malapropisms and mistakes. But the pace is slow where it needs to be more frenetic and the production in general lacks the drive and bite to elicit big laughs. Indeed there seems to be an overall lack of fun in the proceedings and the play never really fully gets into its stride and is almost over when it does hit its stride.
Hyemi Shin’s design, whisking us through editing suits and viewing theatres distracts us from the fact that this is a verbal comedy. Furthermore the set seems too Spartan and austere to really convey the glamour of Tinseltown.
Harry Enfield gives us a shuffling, cigar-chomping and ineffectual, studio mogul in Herman Glogauer, a man who knows that his power lies in his position, Claudie Blakley is a pin-sharp May and Kevin Bishop captures the bright opportunism of Jerry, while John Marquez has the right mooncalf innocence as George, infatuated with a talentless ingénue. Amanda Lawrence is encouraged to do too much funny business as a nerve-racked receptionist with an unerring talent for mayhem.
In the topsy turvy world of Hollywood, suggest Hart and Kaufman, it is the survival of the dumbest!
Once in a Lifetime
Playing at the Young Vic until 14 January 2017Last modified: December 21, 2016