In Larry, Keith Drinkel stars as the legendary British actor. The year is 1975 and the action takes place in a New York hotel suite where Olivier is preparing for his role as Nazi war criminal Christian Szell in John Schlesinger’s film Marathon Man, in which he will star alongside Dustin Hoffman. Olivier is in poor health and is a slave to a range of tablets and potions. As a result he is anxious about whether he can carry off the part. This state of anxiety prompts the great actor to look back over his life, both personal and professional.
Much of what we see here, especially in the events surrounding Marathon Man, have gone down in movie history, and will be even more familiar to anyone who has read writer William Goldman’s book Adventures in the Screen Trade. That said, I found it hard to believe that even an Olivier past his best would be reduced to practically begging for the part. I thought it was well documented that producer Robert Evans was so desperate to get Olivier for the film he refused to give up even when Paramount couldn’t get the ailing actor insured.
This dubious historical fact aside, Keith Drinkel simply doesn’t have the gravitas to portray this titan of British theatre. He wisely steers clear of trying a full-on impersonation, but even so the speeches are still lacking authority, and on opening night he stumbled over quite a few words. This situation isn’t helped by Burgess’ script, which becomes confusing when the action moves forward eight years to Olivier’s home in Sussex where we find him preparing to film King Lear for television.
In The Man With the Golden Pen, Michael Chance at least imbues author Ian Fleming with a certain sense of style, but Burgess’ script is once again marred by some historical inaccuracies.
It’s 1952 and Fleming is at his home in Jamaica putting the finishing touches to his first James Bond novel Casino Royale, but that isn’t the main thing on his mind. At the age of 42, he is about to get married — and it frightens him to death.
As in Larry, this state of anxiety causes Fleming to look back on his life: the days at Eton, his time in Naval Intelligence during the war and the serial womanising.
Burgess uses an effective device to have Fleming in a one sided conversation with his secret agent hero and it soon becomes clear that Fleming has adorned 007 with many of the attributes he thinks he himself lacks.
The Man With the Golden Pen is certainly the stronger of the two pieces here but still isn’t without fault, and as a production overall Heavens of Invention suffers from an often muddled narrative and uneven performances.
Reviewed by Tony Peters
Heavens of Invention is playing at the Jermyn Street Theatre until 7 March 2015. Click here for more information and to book tickets.