Bob Cryer (Gondorff) and Ross Forder (Hooker)
Tucked away in a side street a moment's walk away from the historic Tower of London is another place steeped in history; Wilton's Music Hall. The Grade II listed building dates back to the 18th century, though it has only been a producing space for the last decade. Having recently undergone a major restoration, the theatre has re-opened its doors with a production of The Sting, based on the 1973 movie of the same name starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford.
While I don't know what the music hall looked like before the restoration, it still very much shows its age, which gives the theatre a lot of character suitable to the time period that their first new production is set in; the 1930s. As soon as I entered the venue I was transported to a smoky Chicago of nearly a century ago, where a sultry singer was entertaining the audience, a couple of smartly dressed con men were lurking around eyeing their next target, and in another room a group of men were playing an intense game of poker. It was delightful pre-show entertainment and combined with the newspaper style programme, titled the Wilton Tribute, it set the mood for the rest of the evening.
Taking our seats in the main auditorium, the atmospheric entertainment continued until the lights dimmed and the main event of the night started. The Sting focuses on two grifters, Hooker (Ross Forder) and Gondorff (Bob Cryer) who are combining forces to set up a complicated con to take revenge on big mobster Lonnegan (John Chancer), who has killed one of their friends. What follows is an ingeniously complicated set-up that would be mad in any form but a stage or screen adaptation, and while some of the actions seem unrelated to the big con at first, they slowly but surely start to click together as the big plan reveals itself to the audience.
The 1930s is a popular decade for London Theatre productions at the moment, as in recent months I've also watched Grand Hotel at Southwark Playhouse and Thoroughly Modern Millie at the Landor Theatre, all set in the time of flapper dresses, sharp suits and swing jazz. Each one had their own charm, but where the former two were romanticised, The Sting is a more action-packed kind of entertainment – in similar vain to Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, though less silly as it takes place during the time of the Great Depression in America. While this doesn't take a very central point within the story, it is always lingering in the background.
The play had a slow start and it felt even longer due to the rather uncomfortable seating options (top tip: the seats are not attached to one another so move them slightly apart before your neighbours arrive, that way you will not be awkwardly squashed between two large men like I was for the first half), however once the big con was set into motion it started to get a lot more captivating and this only increased in the fast-paced and exciting second act, which had a rather explosive conclusion.
Leading men Forder and Cryer were excellent in their respective roles and they were supported by an admirable cast. The doubling up of characters and some accents that didn't come near Chicagoan were a tad confusing at times, but if you suspend disbelief and take The Sting for the rapturous adventure it is you'll have a jolly good time. Besides the con cleverly coming together towards the end, a particular highlight was watching Ashley Henry as the piano player providing the sole instrumental support for the production, he does so with a joie de vivre befitting the grifters and the gorgeous Wilton's Music Hall.
The Sting is running at Wilton's Music Hall until 17 October 2015. You can book tickets here.
Many thanks to theatreblogs for organising the outing!