Abysmal production adds to West End's inglorious love of blondes

The Seven Year Itch | Queen's Theatre, London
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Being born a brunette or, worse, just plain mousey, is simply Mother Nature's way of telling you to buy a bottle of peroxide. Or so you might think, if you were an actress with your sights set at the moment on the West End. Though scarcely gentlemen, West End producers certainly prefer blondes. They also have a marked bias towards American ladies with a career in movies or modelling and as little stage experience as is consistent with being able to identify a theatre from the outside so that the limo knows where to stop. The latest product to roll off this undignified conveyor belt opened last night: Michael Radford's abysmal production of The Seven Year Itch, starring Daryl (Splash) Hannah in the Marilyn Monroe part.

Being born a brunette or, worse, just plain mousey, is simply Mother Nature's way of telling you to buy a bottle of peroxide. Or so you might think, if you were an actress with your sights set at the moment on the West End. Though scarcely gentlemen, West End producers certainly prefer blondes. They also have a marked bias towards American ladies with a career in movies or modelling and as little stage experience as is consistent with being able to identify a theatre from the outside so that the limo knows where to stop. The latest product to roll off this undignified conveyor belt opened last night: Michael Radford's abysmal production of The Seven Year Itch, starring Daryl (Splash) Hannah in the Marilyn Monroe part.

This is, potentially at least, a cut above the average example of the genre. Unlike The Graduate, the stage version of which is just a trumped-up licence to print money, The Seven Year Itch was actually a bona fide play before it was a movie. The problem, though, is that it's a terrible play, partly redeemed in the film by Billy Wilder's additional one-liners.

Shorn of these, theatrical comedy is exposed as soft-core porn. In the guise of satirising a middle-aged married publishing ad-man, who is left to his own devices in a steaming hot New York while his wife and boy go on vacation, it in fact gives him and the audience the chance to ogle a seductive new neighbour who has all the independent inner life of a blow-up sex doll.

Marilyn Monroe exploded that restriction in the movie with her trademark ambiguity. Partly the joke lay in the difference between her miasmic myopia about her appeal and the men whose eyes shoot out on stalks at her merest approach. Partly it lay in the fact that a bit of this actress always seems to have a low-down lewd complicity in her own provocativeness. Of the anodyne Ms Hannah, who once famously played a mermaid, the best that one can say is that she seems like a fish out of water on stage. Rolf Saxon, who plays the horn-rimmed square publisher, has to carry the play in its various fantasy sequences, but, on this showing, he'd have difficulty commanding a stage alone for the length of time it takes the curtain to go up. The chemistry between him and Ms Hannah, who certainly looks fetching in a range of stylish outfits from a lovely polka dotted pink halter-neck dress to a diaphanous folly with a waist revealing heart-shaped top, is roughly what you would encounter between a dead mouse and a sheet of asbestos.

The whole show is so dated in its values that it feels as if you've been imprisoned for two and a half hours in a 1950s copy of Life magazine. With the ghastly Brief Encounter, the wholly unnecessary Graduate and this cure for insomnia side by side on Shaftesbury Avenue, "Theatreland" is like a cross between a mortuary and the Street of Shame.

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