Cool Hand Luke originally a 1965 novel by Donn Pearce, adapted for the screen and finally broughtto the stage nearly half a century later.
Marc Warren plays Luke Jackson, a man who donnes an exterior calm to hide the torment he wrestles within. Warren shines, as always, during his cheeky, defiant moments, yet I felt his torment needed more convincing. The pivotal point arrived when Luke shoulders a bet to eat fifty eggs against the clock. This scene finally gave breath to each character and enveloped the audience. To the fore came Dragline, Luke’s promoter, supporter and friend, engrossingly played by Lee Boardman, who you I succinctly remember from Coronation Street. Boardman, more often than not, supported the cast by single-handedly keeping the audience interested and refusing to let the energy dissipate. After such a rousing display during the egg eating competition I expected the comic timing and camaraderie to continue, however, some actors seemed to lack awareness and volume, resulting in flat one liners…if they were ever heard. A particularly unconvincing and weak link was Boss Godfrey, played by Richard Brake. Brake’s mere presence and form imposes fear but his anger and mockery is contrived, though Warren still proves himself against his antagonist. Musical interludes from the beautifully paired Sandra Marvin and Tania Mathurin, delightfully rousing vocals but at times too frequent an intrusion. The piece involved an abundance of physical combat, which was only convincingly executed 10% of the time.
The design by Edward Lipscomb was slick and compact, segueing seamlessly into each setting. Matthew Eagland’s lighting was entrancing; abruptly and succinctly shifting us from each part of Luke’s psyche. I particularly favoured Julie Rogers’ flash transformations.
An interesting narrative with some enjoyable performances, but for a play about convicts, it most certainly lacked conviction.
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23 Sep 2011 - 7 Jan 2012
Aldwych Theatre, London WC2.