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
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Jenny Lee may have left, but Miranda Hart and the rest of the midwives deliver the goods

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
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.

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all