Tuesday, 22 January 2008

REVIEW: "An Audience With The Mafia"

(There's a line at the end of the film Ratatouille where a restaurant critic talks about how those in his profession love writing negative reviews because they're fun despite wishing they didn't have to. In this case, he's sadly right.)

What is our fascination with organised crime? Hollywood loves to treat mobsters as an idealised group of anti-heroes, the History channel is loaded with gangster documentaries, and HBO scored one of the greatest television coups in history with The Sopranos. Maybe it’s the conspiracy theorist in all of us, the desire to go offing our enemies, or the style and flair associated with the families. Regardless, An Audience With The Mafia attempts to tap into our obsessions with the mob with some crime family history.

Unfortunately, it’s a pretty weak attempt. Presented by “The Mercy Man” (the programme doesn’t list an actor’s name), an Israeli...something (we never find out much of the character’s background), this glorified one man show presents the audience with a dull, scattershot story of the biggest names in American mobster history. Revolving around the associates of Meyer Lansky, whom the narrator claims to have met twice, the first act describes the establishment of the American Mafia and the prohibition era, and the second the rise of Las Vegas. The counterweights of the World Wars and Great Depression and the Mafia’s involvement (or lack thereof) are skipped over. The interaction between Italian and Jewish factions, however, is heavily emphasised in every story, with every connection, until the audience is beaten over the head with it.

Describes, sadly, is the right word to use - the entire play is a big history lesson with an occasional second narrator more appropriate for a sensationalist crime museum or cable TV than the West End. Backed by three projectors routinely getting ahead of the presentation and mis-cued sound effects, “Mercy” skims the surface of one story after another before being hit with red lights and switching to first person to describe the deaths of mobsters such as Bugsy Siegel. The second, female, narrator plays roles such as Siegel’s daughter and Marilyn Monroe, but it adds a Ken Burns perspective rather than theatricality. The remainder of the sets, two abstract lattice-worked staircases and backdrops (black and white New York in Act One and a vivid Vegas in Act Two) is far more than this work needs or merits. The lighting is minimal, barring the death scenes and mandatory flashing sequences during gunfights (the death of Dutch Schultz is particularly loud and seizure inducing).

Sadly, just when the audience thinks the lecture is over, the tone of the play shifts gears for a surprising worse from boring to delusional as “Mercy” spends the end of the play recapping, introducing new mafia-backed conspiracy theories, and claiming that if the state of Israel had only shown mercy itself and granted Lansky citizenship, he may have been willing to reveal the truths and secrets of the early American mob. Instead of being called An Audience With The Mafia, this play should really be called An Audience With A Loony Mafia Nerd (and one without any Myspace Friends to boot) and suitably avoided in favour of the Hollywood editon of your choice or any number of the books available at Murder One bookstore on Charing Cross.

Where: Apollo Theatre
When: Now through 16 Feb. Sa-Th @ 20:00, W/Su @ 15:00
Cost: £10-£40
Concessions: £20 day seats subject to availability. Given the upper levels were closed last night and the stalls were deserted (esp. after the interval), this should not be a challenge.
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £0. Staying home and reading Wikipedia entries on famous mobsters and mob conspiracy theories would be a more entertaining and educational endeavour.
RZ Other Notes: The RZ wishes to express his love for Nimax theatres for putting concession information on their show websites and wishes other houses and producers would follow suit. The Nimax listing also claims that Under-15s aren’t permitted to attend, but the RZ found nothing unsuitable for a pre-teen audience (though he suspects leaving the little ones at home - the crime scene photos can be graphic and the gunshots will scare the hell out of them).

The RZ also wishes to point out that while he and most of the people he talked to were mixed to negative about the show, there were a number of people who did enjoy it quite a bit - perhaps the lack of overexposure compared to the US helps.

The advertising flier for A Night with the Mafia features a pull quote from the Telegraph, claiming the show to be “Chilling”. A search on the paper’s website, however, failed to locate anything to do with the show. The RZ therefore suspects that the only thing “chilling” about this overproduced bore is that audience members are being cheated out of their money and evenings to see this dreck. Save your money and see The Vortex when it begins late next month instead.


Matthew Lumb said...

Couldn't agree more with your spot-on review. Went to see this tonight and couldn't believe that it could possibly be allowed to be on in the West End. A number of people walked out during the first half and, inkeeping with the hammered home Jewish theme, the exodus at the interval proved it all. It's such a vibrant story that could be told brilliantly in so many ways, it baffled me why it was chosen to be told by a weird mafia geek who has the stage presence and gravitas of a hamburger. There truly was absolutely nothing redeeming about this at all.

Anonymous said...

i went to see the show last night
and found out it was only a preview. still there were ten of us and we had a great time so we
have to disagree with your reviewer.it seems from what i heard
they are still working on it but
as far as us and the people we spoke to though it fantastic.weare
going again by which time any chinks if any will be sorted.

Baxter said...

Spot on review. Went to a preview last night, and couldn't believe how hammy it was. This one definitely needs to swim with the fishes.

Baxter said...

I meant sleep! Sleep with the fishes!

Rogue Zentradi said...

TheLondonPaper Interview with the creator

So an academic afraid because of how much he's revealing in the show?

Sorry, I don't buy it. There are shelves upon shelves of books dedicated to this subject.

Likewise, if he's a British academic, what's up with the Israeli character? It makes no sense, and he fails to even explain why the character is so mafia obsessed. In my opinion, the show would have worked better if done like Tom Crean or any number of other one-mans where the presenter takes on a historical figure. Why not portray everything from the perspective of a lower hood in the pecking order? Character, Drama, Action.

That said, Tamfio, I'm glad you had a good time at the show - people with a major interest in the material or who don't have a yank's exposure probably do get more out of it. That doesn't mean I'd be willing to go back (neither, it appears, does the critic who reviewed it for WhatsOnStage).

Andrew (a West End Whinger) said...

Good god, this sounds diabolically bad.

Are there still tickets?

Rogue Zentradi said...

Andrew: I have no doubt you'll be able to get tickets. WoS even have an offer on the main site for top tickets at £25.

Anonymous said...

Knowing the Apollo as I do, I would guess the balcony and upper circle will be firmly closed for the rest of this run. So Andrew, buy balcony and wind up sitting really close to the (in)action... Is that an upgrade or a downgrade?

blinder said...

What is all this fuss all about.It
is all about entertainment and not
about philosophy. This is good
knock about fun with the Mafia.
Go and Enjoy and do not listen
to the old miseries.We all luved
it a grate deal.

Anonymous said...

We just cannot get our heads around
some of the elitist stuff. This is
great knockabout fun that is most
original and fun so go watch this
great entertainment that is most
educational to boot.

Anonymous said...

We took our in-laws and their friends who never go to the theatre
and they really had fun so will you if you just want to enjoy
a night out. We had a good time.

Rogue Zentradi said...

What is all this fuss all about.It
is all about entertainment and not
about philosophy.

We just cannot get our heads around some of the elitist stuff.

I don't have a problem with sit back and enjoy yourself theatre - one of my all time favourite shows is Starlight Express, and as my classmates and colleagues at uni will tell you, I am the first person to defend the populist and come down against pretentious "art."

My issue with Audience/Mafia was that it was 1)boring, 2)uninvolving, 3)shallow, and 4)boring. Fixing #3 would have gone a long way towards taking care of the rest.

Anonymous said...

the worst production we have ever seen. Year 5 script, year 2 acting. The most entertaining moment was listening to the seats banging up. The majority left at half time. Don't waste your money.

nickyboy said...

we are not embarrassed to say that this is a show that is different in
the best possible way. we have just
been to the matinee of today and
we (all eight of us) were really enthralled.Not just us but everyone
around us were having a fab time.
who are these 'up themselves experts'. Starlight Express indeed.
Try something that makes you think.
This is great stuff - A1 Show

jellyfish said...

Ignore the minuses - Everyone
we spoke to at today's show
had a wonderful time and some even
talked about going back again. we
suppose controversy is good and
that you can't please everyone still if you like revivals and
ancient plays then this ain't
for you but for all us in the
public - well this is well worth
the entrance - two thumbs up

roadrunner said...

I love it when people come out with
some claptrap that they are so very
populist because their friends tell them so. Must be because he
liked StarlightExpress.
Thank you Mr.Patronising.
I guess that you should stay away
from anything that we can learn something about. The Mafia Show was
a lot of good info plus plenty of entertainment - well recommended.

slowhand said...

It never ceases to amaze us how
some folk use crude insults if there is something they personally
disaprove of such as Matthew Lumb.
As it so happens us ordinay people
and those around us really thought
the performance was splendid and
kept us interested all the way
through the show.
Not for everyone maybe but refreshingly original.

Anonymous said...

After all the fuss I went with
three friends from work last
night and guess what we had a good
time. Sure this is not theatre as
we know it but then what do we
know we are only members of the
general public. We were happily
taken into an unknown world,learned
something new and then went home.
This ain't life or death but our
evening was enjoyable.

Anonymous said...


Your review was spot-on. Listening to the "Mercy Man" was like listening to a headache at full volume, delivered in a monotone by a person who failed every acting class available.

What made it worse was that the exhibition in the foyer gave all the photo's and captions which were to be used in the show.

It was little wonder that there were only two dozen peope in the audience, and several of them were asleep, myself included.

Next time I'll watch the Biography Channel.


Anonymous said...

i thought the show was good the man had alot of knowlage but just didnt know how to act but least he had a go :)
the actress was very good.
sung happy birthday mr presedent great and look lovey :)
she was bril at the accents
maybe its not the normal thing you expect in the west end but its something different..