'Stop laughing, it's not a comedy': bell tolls for Hemingway musical

Standing in a huddle outside the Comedy Theatre during the interval, five theatre buffs were debating whether to bother with the second half of Too Close to the Sun, the new West End musical based on the final days of Ernest Hemingway.

The group all worked in the theatre business and had been given free tickets for one of the previews used by producers to test the water before opening the show to the public ... and the critics. On leaving their seats for the interval, they had been asked by a manager to stop laughing at inappropriate moments because it was "distracting and upsetting" the cast.

"I feel terrible if we've upset the cast but we just couldn't help it," said one, who is a musical director. "They're doing the best they can with the script but the fact of the matter is, this is one of the worst musicals I have ever seen." His friend added: "I admit perhaps we shouldn't have been laughing so hard. But from next week on, tourists will be shelling out up to £50 to see this show. Imagine what they'll think of the West End after that?"

These comments will not be music to the ears of John Robinson, the man behind Too Close to the Sun, billed as "a fictional account of what might have been Ernest Hemingway's last challenge." Even before the critics saw Robinson's latest offering, preview audiences were already savaging the production on internet forums and discussion boards.

People were regularly seen leaving after the first half, they said. On one night when one of the cast members shouted the line "Enough", one member of the audience was heard to shout back "quite!"

The play was so awful, the bloggers said, you simply had to go see it.

The play plots the final three days of the Nobel prize-winning author's life, as he lusts after his nubile secretary before shooting himself in the head with a shotgun – a somewhat unusual subject for the musical genre which usually errs towards light-hearted pick-me-ups.

But Robinson has something of a history when it comes to making musical flops. Four years ago his debut libretto Behind the Iron Mask was widely panned as one of the worst West End musicals in decades. It closed 78 days early after receiving what the Evening Standard described as "one of the most ferocious critical onslaughts in recent West End history".

Early indications suggest Too Close to the Sun is in for a similar mauling. This week one particularly unsympathetic online reviewer wrote: "When it comes down to it, whoever thought it was a good idea to make a musical about Ernest Hemingway committing suicide should themselves be shot. Go and see this horrific gem of a show. You'll want to say you did in years to come, trust me. But make sure you load up on booze before you even start, or you won't make it as far as the interval."

So with one turkey already under his belt, how did Robinson manage to get Too Close to the Sun on to a stage? It helps if you have your own company, of course. Rather than persuade an independent production company to take on the play, Robinson has created his own company, GBM Productions. A number of private investors have backed the play and, The Independent understands, at least one backer has put as much as £100,000 of his own money into the project.

The Comedy Theatre, meanwhile, which is owned by the Ambassador Theatre Group, was free during the summer months, a notoriously quiet time of the year for new productions in London's theatreland.

But whilst those behind the play may nervously await the reviews, one member of the cast appears to have fled the critics' poison pens.

When The Independent attended a preview on Thursday night the role of Rex de Havilland, a fictional friend of Hemingway, was played by an understudy because Jay Benedict had "injured his knee in rehearsals". A posting on his own blog claimed Benedict had now "left the production" although a spokesperson for the Ambassador Theatre Group last night said: "That's news to me. As far as I'm aware he will be back when his knee is better."

Too Close to the Sun: The punters' verdict

*"This was an unintentional comedy, with the audience sniggering through both acts. The majority left at the interval, and those who did remain had to self-medicate to make it through the remaining 12(!) songs, including yours truly."

*"It's rare that such a disaster opens in the West End, and Too Close To The Sun is certainly an amusing disaster to watch as it descends further and further from shocking to abysmal to 'oh no they didn't' and beyond."

*"It's tacky, ugly, and the must-see disaster of the year"

*"The applause... was the most forced I have ever heard in a theatre – polite and hardly audible at best. Eleven people left the stalls within the first 45 minutes."

*"You'll love it for all the wrong reasons."

*"So many people walked out after the first half it wasn't even funny. I also broke my own golden rules of theatre etiquette and turned on my phone to text – I just had to tell someone how dreadful it was."

Taken from the blogs on theatricalleanings.blogspot.com and www.roguezentradi.blogspot.com.

Arts and Entertainment

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade

radio
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
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.

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?