Reviewed by Tony Peters
In 1916 Leslie “Hutch” Hutchinson moved from his home on the island of Grenada to New York where he became a jazz pianist. In 1920s Paris he met composer Cole Porter and the two became lovers. With Porter’s patronage, Hutch was soon the toast of Parisian café society, which brought him to the attention of Edwina Mountbatten, wife of Lord Louis Mountbatten. Edwina persuaded Hutch to move to London, where he became not only a top cabaret artist, but also Edwina’s lover. The couple’s recklessness soon provoked a scandal in the newspapers, however, and with the establishment closing ranks around Edwina, Hutch became ostracised.
It’s a fascinating story. You couldn’t, as they say, make it up.
A shame then that this production of Joe Evans’ play with music, based on Charlotte Breese’s biography of Hutch, manages to take such a compelling tale and make it all rather flat.
Sheldon Green in the title role demonstrates little of the charisma that must have been in evidence to propel this exotic creature into the midst of English high society and make him such a celebrated performer — all at a time of extreme racial prejudice. Character development from the slightly apprehensive person we meet as a protégé of Cole Porter, through his rise to stardom and the scandal that ultimately engulfed him is, at best, unconvincing.
Sid Phoenix, however, brings a smoothness and poise, even a loucheness, to the role of Porter, which fits perfectly into the opulent if rather decadent world in which these characters exist.
Imogen Daines in her professional debut after graduating from RADA in 2012 shows great promise and her performance as Edwina Mountbatten as she moves from a flighty young woman with a voracious sexual appetite to a broken character reined in by the establishment is pitched just about perfectly. But the same cannot be said of Andrew Mathys as her husband Louis, who simply doesn’t convey the gravitas that you’d expect from a member of the aristocracy.
The list of Cole Porter songs and other jazz age classics from the likes Jerome Kern and George Gershwin can only be bonus, while the delightfully saucy girls of Halbert Kultur, who are guesting here as the chorus, give the production some much needed zing whenever they are on.
It’s all staged with a good sense of period by director Linnie Reedman and there’s nice work from Chris Hone and Belle Mundi on sets and costumes respectively.
At the first night curtain call, Hutch’s son Chris spoke movingly about his father and said his was a story that needed to be told. There was optimistic talk of West End transfers and even the possibility of a film. Whether any of this comes to fruition remains to be seen, but at the moment some patchy performances mean this version of Hutch’s story is a starting point rather than the finished article.
Hutch plays at the Riverside Studios until 8th June.
Directed by Linnie Reedman
Written by Joe Evans
Based on the biography Hutch by Charlotte Breese
Leslie “Hutch” Hutchinson Sheldon Green
Cole Porter Sid Phoenix
Linda Porter Nell Mooney
Edwina Mountbatten Imogen Daines
Lord Louis Mountbatten Andrew Mathys
Jesse Matthews Janna Yngwe
Joe Zelli/A Lawyer Patrick Lannigan
Zelli’s Girls Members of Halbwelt Kultur