(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
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.