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The Solid Gold Cadillac RSC Sher
by Brian Clover

I don't get ulcers. I give them.
--- Ed McKeever
The Solid Gold Cadillac
Roy Hudd as Ed L McKeever and Patricia Routledge as Laura
(Photo: John Timbers)
Last night the Garrick Theatre in the heart of London's West End was the scene of an audacious robbery by a highly-skilled professional. In the presence of hundreds of people, and acting independently of his "gang", a Mr Roy Hudd perpetrated an outrageous and shameless theft. Theatre-goers sat open-mouthed in disbelief as Mr Hudd's performed the oration "Spartacus to the Gladiators" and stole the show Solid Gold Cadillac from under our noses.

Stateside readers may not have heard of Roy Hudd, although he is one of our finest actors and is a living link to Britain's centuries' old tradition of vaudeville, music hall and variety, a man with legendary comic timing who has appeared on the same bill as Max Miller and Peter O'Toole. It was really to be expected that he would work the larger-than-life role of Big Ed McKeever for all it is worth and bring the house down.

Big Ed once ran Universal Products - "If we don't make it, there's no money in it!" - working his way from shovelling slag to chairman of the board. But now, for his sins, he's working for the government in Washington and hating every minute of it. Meanwhile, back in New York, the new board of UP is busy robbing their shareholders, as if that could happen in real life! But can one woman - retired actress Laura Partridge - stop them and give Big Ed back his joy in life and capital accumulation? Hmm…

Teichmann and Kaufman's play really belongs to a different age - their capitalists are straight out of a Peter Arno cartoon and wouldn't recognise an MBA if it stole the cigar out of their mouth. When the Coen Brothers visited this strangely-attractive territory in The Hudsucker Proxy they wisely chose to treat it with large dollops of fantasy. Teichmann and Kaufman insist that their play is a fairy tale, but I don't think that really excuses the play's weaknesses. The satire is soggy, the story has more holes than King Kong's string vest, and the whole thing is sadly dated, if only because Ed McKeever's Washington is synonymous with exasperating integrity. There are fewer juicy lines than one has a right to expect. "Here's how astrology works: once you're born you're done for!" is one of the better ones. "I've never worked in my life: I'm an actress," is another.

But the audience had a tremendous time, to judge by the laughter, so perhaps I am being picky. Many will want to go just to see Roy Hudd and his formidably accomplished co-star, Patricia Routledge, one of Alan Bennett's, and Britain's, favourite actresses. Hudd is on strong form and a delight, though Ms Routledge doesn't seem entirely at ease with the character of Laura Partridge, ex-thespian turned corporate raider, but this is a weakness in the writing. One moment whimsical, naïve and clumsy, the next sharp, insightful and scheming, Laura's character never quite makes sense. Ian Brown's direction is also defeated by the play itself; some scenes just stumble to a halt while others limp on regardless. Hudd's tour de force comes in the middle, leaving the rest of the play something of an anti-climax. However, Ruari Murchison's set is clever and resourceful and the supporting cast is admirable, particularly Kate-Lynn Hocking as several incarnations of femininity.

But anyone going should beware. Mr Hudd is plainly a desperate man and if members of the public encounter him they should approach with caution since they are in serious danger of laughter in a play which is quite literally a vehicle for its stars.

The Solid Gold Cadillac
Written by Howard Teichmann and George S Kaufman
Directed by Ian Brown

Starring: Roy Hudd and Patricia Routledge
With: Lucy Briers, Michael Elwyn, Teddy Kempner, Fred Ridgeway, David Ross, Nick Haverson, Kate-Lynn Hocking, Joshua Levine, Derek Howard, Lucy Lieman, Janet Hargreaves
Designer: Ruari Murchison
Lighting Designer: Oliver Fenwick
Sound: Mic Pool
Running time: Two hours 15 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0870 890 1104
Booking to 15th January 2005.
Reviewed by Brian Clover based on 29th September 2004 performance at the Garrick Theatre, Charing Cross Road London WC2 (Tube: Charing Cross)
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