THEATRE / What's it all about, Alfie?: Nick Curtis reviews Alfie, newly arrived in the West End, plus the best of the Fringe

BEFORE the touchy-feely Nineties man has even begun to flash his reconstructed credentials on stage, a pre-emptive strike has been launched by the old lads. First John Osborne exhumed Jimmy Porter for a misogynistic reprise in Dejavu. Then the National Theatre's revival proved that the charming sheen had worn off Billy Liar. Now the ultimate post-war wide-boy has returned: Bill Naughton's Alfie rears his roguish head at the Queen's Theatre.

This renewed popularity for characters who treat women like Kleenex must surely mark a recessionary longing for a more innocent, affluent era. The flip-side of Alfie's reactionary sexism is the new optimism of the Sixties. Freed from Fifties hardship, Alfie is less political than Porter and more savvy than Billy; he's got money, spiffy suits, a car . . . and more birds than he can shake a stick at. Birds, he reckons, just want a good time. So does Alfie. So where's the harm, eh?

Apart from female characters so two-dimensional they almost justify Alfie's catch-all term of endearment, 'it', the harm lies in the play's laborious length and torpid pacing. Alfie is not just dated, but dull. Like its hero, the script is chiefly concerned with the next conquest; the successive seductions, and Alfie's jocund soliloquies - which fold each cameo character into the equation that justifies his egotism - become a tiresome blur.

The central performance of Adam Faith, who also directs, is essential to the nostalgia factor. Age has not withered Faith's rough-edged charm, which he uses to downplay the character's essential callousness. He is also genuinely convincing at Alfie's crass come-uppance, crumbling under the weary gaze of a back-street abortionist (Leonard Fenton, the only supporting player to flesh out the wafer-thin cameos). At times though, the disparity between Faith's and Alfie's ages shows glaringly, a reminder that this play, like the Ford Popular into which Naughton loads his hero at the end for an embarrassingly redemptive back-seat bunk-up, belongs in a museum rather than a theatre.

Deciding where Philippe Genty belongs has never been easy. Variously feted as a puppeteer, director and choreographer, he is perhaps best described as an illusionist, juxtaposing the real and the artificial in plotless, movement-based shows in a desperate search for novelty.

A cringingly embarrassing free verse programme note ('I am falling forever / falling into one of those unmarked memory / holes, / becoming an avalanche') and simpering company biographies give a foretaste of what is to come in his latest box of tricks, Forget Me Not. Sure enough, this is a lengthy divertimento on the theme of memory, its coy, dream-like ambience only ever flirting with the nightmarish.

A stack of formally dressed figures teem from behind a sofa to overwhelm a chimp in a dress. Five live performers animate five dummies for a formless game of tag, where attempts at seduction are contrasted with repression, epitomised by a paper bag over the head. Huge turd-like grubs twitch across the stage and the sofa bulges into a threatening blob. Images of birth and death are thrown up and then thrown over. Unanchored by substance in Genty's tricksy presentation, they become meaningless, disposable.

A case in point is the moment when one of the women, having shed her gown to become a child (symbolism, anyone?), takes refuge from a gang of men in swathes of parachute silk. The silk billows into a voluminous scooped skirt; then the ribbed hood of the material rises, until the woman is twirling at the heart of a great rippling conch shell. It's a stage picture of astonishing beauty. But once the buzz of enchantment has passed, the spectator searches vainly for meaning as the image dissolves. Genty does not respond, other than to resume his barrage of clever sleight of hand. More matter with less art, you want to shout at him, to wake him from his twee slumber.

For Trish Cooke, memory is an essential commodity. In her lumpy but pleasing Running Dream at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East, deracinated characters cling to the past as a means of self-affirmation. A Dominican mother emigrates to England, taking one child with her, leaving another behind and bearing a third in her new home. Clementine (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) feels cheated of English promise; Grace (Sherlina Chamberlain) misses 'Clemmy' and the life of La Plaine village; Bianca, with her Brummie twang, is taunted by whites for being black, and by her sisters for her accent, mimsy nature and city ways.

The fluid ensemble scenes in Dominica, conducted in Creole 'patwa' to lilting background music, are excellent. Chamberlain, Tyson and Baptiste evolve a seemingly effortless recreation of the easy camaraderie and casual cruelty of youth. But the action, like the girls' mother, falls apart when it moves to England and Cooke bogs the play down with lumbering explanation. She also indulges in some rather specious generalisations about life in Britain and Dominica, denuding the play of its initial, directly emotional clout.

'Alfie' is at the Queen's to 20 March (071-494 5040); 'Forget Me Not' at Sadler's Wells to 13 March (071-278 8916); 'Running Dream' at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East to 27 March (081-534 0310).

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
Arts and Entertainment
Swiss guards stand in the Sistine Chapel, which is to be lit, and protected, by 7,000 LEDs
artSistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer, Lord Alan Sugar, Karren Brady are returning for The Apprentice series 10

TV
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Angelina Jolie and Winona Ryder star in 'Girl, Interrupted'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas Pynchon in 1955, left, and Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix in Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of his novel, Inherent Vice

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Nicole Scherzinger will join the cast of Cats

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Fans were left surprised by the death on Sunday night's season 26 premiere

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lady Mary goes hunting with suitor Lord Gillingham

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

    Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

    A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
    An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

    An app for the amorous

    Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

    Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
    She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

    She's having a laugh

    Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

    Let there be light

    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
    Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

    Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

    Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
    Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

    A look to the future

    It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
    The 10 best bedspreads

    The 10 best bedspreads

    Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
    Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

    Arsenal vs Galatasaray

    Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
    Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?