An homage to film noir that doesn’t digress into a parody, Hardboiled is a dynamic love letter to the great works of the 1940s. Noir is perhaps best symbolised by Philip Marlowe, Raymond Chandler’s imagined detective in his seminal work, The Big Sleep. Brought to life by Humphrey Bogart in the 1946 picture by the same name, the private eye is a clear source of inspiration for this piece.
It feels as though the company Rhum and Clay have a genuine love for the noir genre and wish to pay their respects to the conventions whilst playfully sending them up. At its most ridiculous, we hear advertisements sandwiched between pivotal plot points, in a loving nod to the burgeoning advertisement culture that was on the precipice of exploding in the late 40s. Within the ads and the broader production, the stiff moulds of societal norms that we associate with this time period are spotlighted.
We first meet ‘hardboiled’ private investigator Sam Shadow (Julian Spooner) in his office, chugging down whisky (much to his obvious distaste), accompanied by his ever-helpful right-hand woman, his secretary. Our hero is expected to be cold-hearted with a cool demeanour maintained through a marathon of whisky shots and nursed through countless cigarettes. In saunters Scarlett Crawford, who sets the plot into motion and gets Sam’s heart racing with her femme fatale allure. She urges him to help her solve the case of her missing lover, an employee of her husband’s electricity business. Sam has a keen sense that something doesn’t quite add up….
Joining them are the bruiser, a corrupt executive, a churlish phone operator, and many more. The catalogue of accents that the company can bring to this performance is hugely impressive. The production sends up various tropes in a skilled and nuanced way that never becomes slapstick.
Taking inspiration from Chinatown, The Big Sleep, Casablanca and various other noir classics, Hardboiled is buoyant with references to the well-loved genre, but manages to inject a little modernity into the mix. The effect is truly entertaining. Director, Beth Flintoff, claims that inspiration for the play came from the real life blackouts carried out by energy giant Enron in California in 2000, covered in Lucy Prebble’s 2009 play, Enron. The modern tale of corruption sits easily within the traditional genre, making us question just how far we’ve progressed.
There are wonderful filmic moments realised on stage, from an imaginative car chase performed with the aid torches, to an entire fence being realised by a single gridded panel. The dynamic show is a pleasure to watch with strong performances from the cast. The production starts off strong with a whirl of images before settling into the story, the movement becomes a little sticky in the middle portion, before the final segment revs back into motion. With some tightening, the company’s kinetic, rough and ready storytelling will be a real treat.
Hardboiled: The Fall of Sam Shadow is playing at the New Diorama Theatre until 27 February. For tickets and further information www.newdiorama.com/hardboiled-the-fall-of-sam-shadow