Tom Ambrose lives the Mad Men life – nice house in the suburbs, wife and family, great job, and a handy mistress in the office to stop things being dull. Unfortunately for him, his wife Lucy has realised what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, and taken a lover of her own – at which point Tom’s carefully constructed existence collapses, and he finds himself resorting to lies and subterfuge to get revenge on his wife’s lover and try to win her back. Only, this being a musical comedy, things – of course – don’t quite go to plan.
Joe DiPietro’s The Thing About Men is based on an 80s German film by Doris Dorrie: the story of a man who hides his identity to move in with his wife’s feckless lover and finds himself instead genuinely becoming friends with him. It’s a lightweight but well-observed (if not particularly insightful) romantic comedy that packs in plenty of laughs around what is, when you get down to it, a fairly slight narrative.
Clever dialogue is mixed with full on slapstick to great effect (a set piece involving a gorilla mask is utterly ridiculous, but still very funny) and transporting the action to modern Manhattan is a smart choice, giving plenty of opportunity for mocking the pretensions of the city, from its too-cool-for-you posh restaurants to its outspoken cabbies, its dive bars and its wannabe bohemian hipster artists. These may be easy targets, but they provide plenty of comic fodder for songs like ‘Downtown Bohemian Slum’. It helps that Martin Thomas’ clever set manages to evoke the New York setting even in the compact space of the Landor.
A talented and likeable cast bring plenty of verve to the party: Peter Gerald manages to make Tom reasonably sympathetic, no small feat given the fact that he’s basically an adulterous jerk, while Kate Graham’s Lucy is convincing as the frustrated and neglected housewife who has spent too long ignoring her husband’s infidelities and is in need of some romance and escapism herself. John Addison’s artist Sebastian is suitably idealistic, all holey jumpers and paint stains and delusions of artistic grandeur, but so genuinely likeable underneath that his blossoming bromance with Tom feels believable and real. Playing multiple roles, Lucyelle Cliffe and Steve Webb get most of the big laughs, since they are playing broad tropes, unfettered by the need to be actual characters and freed up to be as over the top as they like (Webb’s snooty maître d’ and Cliffe’s drunk hipster girl are particular highlights). The songs (by DiPietro and musician Jimmy Roberts) are a nicely balanced mix of serious and funny, and director Andrew Keates never lets the pace flag, keeping the whole thing moving at such a clip that you never stop to ponder the basic implausibility of the story.
There may be nothing here that feels particularly new, deep or ground-breaking – in fact the denouement feels remarkably retro and conservative – and neither the story nor the writing ultimately sheds any light on what ‘the thing about men’ actually is, but Keates’ production clearly does what it set out to do, and does it well: it’s fast-paced, entertaining, and will leave you smiling.