I had visited Wilton’s Music Hall, a beautiful genuine nineteenth-century music hall near Tower Hill, several times before it underwent refurbishment, so I was delighted to be asked to accompany some fellow London Theatre Bloggers to review its first show following the grand reopening. The Sting is a play by David Rogers, based on the screenplay of the Oscar-winning 1973 film of the same name by David Ward.
Artistic director Frances Mayhew chose to open with this show, set in 1930s Depression-era America, which might seem like an unusual choice but in fact fits very well with the shabby and atmospheric Wilton’s aesthetic. Even before the show starts, actors in character are milling around, drawing punters into conversation outside the theatre and engaging in hushed exchanges in the hidden corners of the building. The recent refurbishment focused on the front of house and backstage areas of the building (the auditorium itself was repaired in 2012) and here it is shown off beautifully: one of the upstairs rooms is a mini cinema, showing episodes of Popeye, and another is a cabaret room where cast members sing. All in all, the effect is of a mid-century speakeasy. Even the programmes are presented in the style of a 1930s Chicago newspaper.
Once the show proper starts, the auditorium proves to be the ideal space for this play. Gauze screens allow actors to be presented in shadow, film noir-style. The stepped stage allows us perspective, and Jody Kelly’s lighting keeps things atmospheric. Hilary Lewis and Claudia Mayer’s costumes evoke the period, with smart pinstripe suits and flowing dresses.
The story, directed by Peter Joucla, follows two conmen, Johnny Hooker and Luther Coleman, who unknowingly scam a runner for notorious Chicago gangster Doyle Lonnegan. When Luther is murdered, Hooker goes on the run, seeking Luther’s friend Henry Gondorff in order to put together a revenge sting. I have to admit that I found the story a little confusing; this is despite having seen the film, which I also found somewhat baffling. Trying to remember who is double crossing who can be tricky, especially when actors play multiple roles. Perhaps this is just me, though.
Nevertheless, I was drawn into the story, eventually managing to sort things out in my mind. The play sticks closely to the film’s screenplay while transferring it effectively for the stage, scene changes marked by simple lighting changes and prop switches. Towards the end the tension was palpable, although the ending did seem slightly abrupt.
Among the talented cast, I particularly liked Nina Kristofferson, who took on a number of roles including the occasional narrator of the piece. I was also impressed with the work of pianist Ashley Henry, who provided the play’s anachronistic yet entertaining soundtrack.
The Sting runs until 17th October, so you have plenty of time to catch this entertaining piece and explore the wonderful Wilton’s.