A Man of No Importance (Arts Theatre 16/2/10) 19 February 2010

For anyone who has ever had to put together and or edit a theatre programme will know trying to get all the information to fit within a given number of pages can be a real nightmare. You start with 'x' number of pages and little by little you fit in the various pieces only to discover you have two choices - cut down the biographies, which will usually upset at least two people, or increase the number of pages. That second option has its own set of problems as you cannot add just one page but two - four if you count printed pages as opposed to panels. You only needed about half a page to get it all in but now you have three and a half empty pages to fill. Oh the drama.

I bring this up because I find that programmes can tell you allot about the workings of a production. Not what's ultimately per say but the mechanisms that existed to bring that work to the stage.

I've never heard an actual reason for the importance, or not, of biographies. It's an odd thing, if you think about it, to read biographies of the real people who are portraying imagined people on stage. One could argue that it really shouldn't be important. There probably isn't one all encompassing answer to that question but many personal ones. For me, as a frequent theatregoer, I enjoy putting things into context, connecting the dots, recognising names from other productions I've seen. This would also be true for the writers, directors, designers and also producers. I've also wondered how those whose biographies are included view their inclusion. I suspect it's about getting that next job, selling yourself and quite possibly showing how accomplished you are. Just a guess.

Anyway, I aways buy programmes when I go to the theatre (with the exception of shows that I don't really like) and the A Man of No Importance programme was no exception. As I mentioned, I have had to put together a fair number of programmes - from the 'desktop published then colour photocopied and sold for about £1' variety to the more glossy. I understand having to cover costs and maybe get a little profit, as well as serving the audiences needs and this is why I paid £2.50 for the A Man of No Importance programme. It definitely wasn't photocopied, more a semi glossy eight page colour mini magazine.

Everything seemed to be there - basic cast list with the band and actor/musicians listed, a note from the writers, the list of creatives and acknowledgements. This is followed by seven pages of cast biographies, with photos, and two pages of creatives biographies, followed by four pages of ads - all with a direct connection to the originators of this production, the wonderful Union Theatre, the producer and the production. But wait, something was missing. It wasn't until I was attempting to relay to my friend the composers and writers other theatre credits that I noticed the information was nowhere to be found. Then, we were discussing the musical numbers and really couldn't go further than trying to remember the lead up scene or faintly humming what we could remember because the musical numbers weren't listed either.

From experience and habit, I instantly started reviewing the programme from an editing point of view and realised that the actors biographies were way too long. Generally, most of them really haven't done allot of work that would instantly ring a bell or sway a casting person, director or producer. It's a rookie mistake. First instinct is usually to try and keep your actors happy by including everything they submit but it also needs to be balanced by 1. reality and 2. remembering who the programme is for - the audience.

I bring up the rookie mistake element not to be condescending but to try and explain how I felt about the production. I didn't think it was a mistake to transfer this musical but I think how it has been presented in it's new West End home hasn't been fully thought through.

As usual here's the quick rundown. It's a musical based on the 1995 movie A Man of No Importance starring Albert Finney an here's a synopsis I found online: 'Dublin bus conductor Alfie Byrne is content reading Oscar Wilde poetry to his passengers and staging plays in his local church. But when forced to confront a lifelong secret, Alfie must learn to face his true nature and finally take a stand in the world. With a powerful story, lovable characters and a stunning score, A Man of No Importance celebrates the genius of Oscar Wilde, the boisterous streets of Dublin, and the bumps along the road to self-discovery.'

What I will remember most of all about this production is it's smallness. That would seem to be a contradiction in terms for a production with seventeen actors but I always felt it was far away, somewhere off in the distance. It's at the Arts theatre which only has around 350 seats total, so not a cavernous beast, I was pretty center around seven or eight rows back and yet the production didn't reach me. I could easily understand how it was so successful at the Union Theatre, it has an intimate charm to it. The production is filled with colourful characters, each individually carved by a very capable cast, however I felt it was being performed as if it was still in the tiny Union and not adjusted for a larger house with a proscenium stage. There were so many moments to treasure such as the eccentric amateur acting troupe preparing for their controversial production of Oscar Wilde's Salome, but they never took off the way you thought they should. This could have been a fear of going over the top but turning up the volume (overall performance) some would have been a great benefit.

The music on whole wasn't my cup of tea and without a list of songs I didn't have much to grab on to.There were two numbers really stood out. The first was performed by the character Alfie's sister Lily (Joanna Nevin) who, although doesn't have a traditional music theatre voice, delivered with great conviction (a conviction that many with traditional music theatre voices sadly lack). The second was a wonderful song, touchingly and movingly delivered by the character Baldy (Anthony Cable) about his relationship with his deceased wife. Other standout performances were by Roisin Sullivan as Adele the new girl in town, Jamie Honeybourne as Ernie Ally, the Amateur performer with little to no talent, and finally in the small role Breton Beret, a man who flirts with our hero Alfie in a bar - Dieter Thomas avoided cliche and turned in a very believable performance.

Overall, the music was not a favourite,it was just not my thing. The songs hardly ever felt like songs, more like dialogue that was set to music (but what do I know, I'm not a fan of opera) and it didn't make sense to me that so many characters could change their stripes, so to speak,in the last minutes. It seemed very - convenient. But again, like the programme, I think it was a matter of transferring a production from the Union to a larger house. The performances had to be adjusted and it didn't feel like that happened enough. From the few reviews I read before it transferred,it seemed the intimacy of the Union Theatre played a big part in it's success. I wished I had seen it there.

For the record, here are the writers credits:

Book by Terrence McNally - Plays: The Ritz, the Lisbon Traviata, Master Class, Love!Valour! Compassion!, Corpus Christi; Musicals: Kiss of the Spiderwoman, Ragtime, The Rink, The Full Monty

Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and Music by Stephen Flaherty- Ragtime, Once On This Island