Culture: Theatre

Beige Review: Hutch


Leslie ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson is not a name known to many people today. Only 42 people attended his funeral when he died, in poverty, in 1969. His sad end was a world away from his glory days in the 1920s and 30s, when he was one of the most popular cabaret stars in the world.

Everything changed, however, when he entered into a scandalous affair with Lady Edwina Mountbatten, the wife of the Queen’s cousin. Edwina’s law suit against the People newspaper for libel led to Hutch being shunned by the high society that he had once had access to.

Joe Evans’ musical play, set to some of Cole Porter’s most evocative music, takes the Mountbatten affair as its focal point, delving into a secret history that shattered the social mores of the time.

The first act introduces us to Hutch and his mentor Cole Porter. The young black singer sits at the piano as Porter coaches him on the art of performance and love. Their clandestine affair is then played out in Zelli’s Night Club in swinging Paris.

Newcomer, Sheldon Green, is well cast as Hutch. He’s an accomplished piano player and singer and gracefully inhabits the complex man who was doomed to always use ‘the tradesman’s entrance’, but captivated both men and women with his charisma and, allegedy gargantuan penis.

Sid Phonix is an alluring Cole Porter, but its Nell Mooney as the composer’s wife who really shines. Vocally, she is outstanding and with remarkable subtlety reveals the tormented soul of a woman for whom glamour could not make up for an unhappy marriage.

It’s not until the end of the first act that we’re introduced to the Mountbattens and the major flaw in the piece is that Evans takes too long setting the scene. But as Edwina, Imogen Daines is worth waiting for, gleefully streaking across the stage in her sexual rampancy, all brittle arrogance and devil may care attitude.

The highlight of the evening, however, is indisputably Cole Porter’s songs and it’s always a joy hearing them when they are as well performed as they are in this piece. Evans has artfully placed them throughout the script to ensure maximum emotional impact. They’re as fresh and vibrant as ever and perfectly encapsulate the exuberant desire of the morally questionable world we’re being invited to witness.

During the curtain call Hutch’s son, Chris, was welcomed on to the stage to make a speech about his father. It was a poignant moment and a fitting end to a bitter-sweet evening. He explained that, over the years, he had turned down offers for the story to be made into a film and felt that Evans’ play was an appropriate representation of his father’s story. One can certainly imagine a film coming from this material – the book needs fleshing out and there are issues with pacing – but it’s a bold and admirable attempt to tell a forgotten story. You certainly come out of the theatre feeling better for hearing it.

Hutch is at Riverside Studios until 8 June.

Words: Alex Hopkins

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