Tag Archives: Don Black

The Third Man

The Third Man


Menier Chocolate Factory

THE THIRD MAN at the Menier Chocolate Factory


The Third Man

“There is an elegance to all the performances that skilfully navigate the plot twists with boundless energy”


You’re familiar with the platitude; ‘you never get a second chance to make a first impression’. I’ve never really agreed with the expression. Or rather with the inference that the ‘first impression’ is permanent, and cannot be overridden. Impressions always evolve. Often rapidly. Trevor Nunn’s production of “The Third Man” reinforces my opinion.

We walk into a transformed auditorium. Paul Farnsworth’s powerfully evocative set recreates the monochrome decay of post-war Vienna. The musical strains of the zither clashes with, but also sharpens, the tension. It is a familiar sound, reassuring yet haunting. The dusky mood is established as lost souls wander through the blackened city. Holly Martins, a bankrupt ‘hack’ novelist, wanders into the debris looking for his old friend Harry Lime. Ignoring the smoky undertones, he incongruously bursts into song. “This is Vienna… not like the movies”. It is almost as if we are being instructed to resist the impulse to compare this stage adaptation to the original 1949 iconic film. Which is sound advice.

Sam Underwood convincingly portrays Holly Martin, lost in a sea of intrigue; and driven to the brink and to drink. Discovering that his old friend has been killed in a car ‘accident’, he smells a rat and decides to pursue it with a feline tenacity. Edward Baker-Duly’s upper crust, hard-headed military policeman, Major Calloway, continually tries to throw him off the scent. Everyone has something to hide, especially the initially affable Baron Kurtz (a sinister Gary Milner). There is an elegance to all the performances that skilfully navigate the plot twists with boundless energy, but the pace and focus are severely hindered by the music and lyrics.

It is as though the composer, lyricist and writer worked in separate rooms, only coming together at the last minute. Nobody got the memo, it seems, and the result is a bit like channel hopping, only we’re not in control of the remote. Just as our interest is being drawn into the dialogue, we suddenly find ourselves in a song that has sprung from nowhere. And just as you are in the shadowy world of film noir, you suddenly catch yourself fluttering among the pages of a Mills and Boon. George Fenton’s score is undeniably impressive, but it is the underscoring that stands out and evokes the true atmosphere of the piece. The musical numbers themselves appear to have been plucked off the shelf.

Nevertheless, the staging is quite majestic, and Nunn draws out excellent performances from his cast. Natalie Dunne, as Anna Schmidt, gives a very watchable, husky and cool performance as Harry Lime’s grieving girlfriend. Her commitment is unwavering – it is her solo numbers that, despite being moments of beauty, are wondering what they are doing here. Part of the answer lies in the choice of Schmidt being a cabaret singer instead of an actor, but it is a contrived decision.

The major plot twist is weakened by the libretto, even in the face of Simon Bailey’s natural charm as the morally dubious Harry Lime. Yet it is hard to believe that the character can elicit the levels of emotion that are trying to be conveyed. Normally song should be able to express a feeling better than putting it into words. “The Third Man” is billed as a musical thriller, but it should have opted for one or the other.

“It makes no sense at all” Holly Martin sings as we approach the finale. We can’t help agreeing with the sentiment. Paradoxically, however, it is an enjoyable and finely crafted piece of theatre. That does make sense, given the weight of expertise and experience of the individuals behind its creation. It needs more time and thought to bring it together. Ultimately, “The Third Man” deserves a second chance to correct the first impression.


Reviewed on 20th June 2023

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Manuel Harlan



Previously reviewed at this venue:


The Sex Party | ★★★★ | November 2022
Legacy | ★★★★★ | March 2022
Habeas Corpus | ★★★ | December 2021
Brian and Roger | ★★★★★ | November 2021


Click here to read all our latest reviews


Tell Me On A Sunday

Tell me on a Sunday


Cambridge Arts Theatre

Tell Me On A Sunday

Tell me on a Sunday

Cambridge Arts Theatre & UK Tour

Reviewed – 30th September 2021



“Jodie Beth Meyer steps up and her performance does not disappoint”


It is forty years since Marti Webb sang Tell Me on a Sunday as a TV special before the piece reached the stage as one half of Song and Dance, described then by its composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Don Black as ‘a concert for the theatre’. The work has undergone several revisions since then but is still essentially a short one-woman song cycle, the length of an LP album. The current tour usually exploits the TV popularity of singer Jodie Prenger by including a Q and A session with added musical surprises as a second half, but this performance axes this due to the indisposition of the star.

The gauze curtain, superimposed with a New York skyline, lifts to reveal a very basic 1980s apartment and behind it a row of illuminated miniature model buildings – Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, Twin Towers (Designer David Woodhead). Emma enters in wedge sandals and a denim jacket. She is an unassuming girl from Muswell Hill living in New York seeking a husband and a green card. And that’s the plot, as she proceeds to sing us the story of her series of boyfriends and their inevitable breakups.

With advertised singer Jodie Prenger unavailable, understudy Jodie Beth Meyer steps up and her performance does not disappoint. The opening number Take That Look Off Your Face immediately wins over this audience and sets the standard for the evening. With her eyes twinkling and a smile upon her lips every lyric of every song is crystal clear, Jodie’s enunciation impeccable. Aided by amplification, she does not need to push her voice – this is not opera – and her style is understated rather than projected. Her high register rings out pure and glorious, a delight to listen to. The wide range required in some numbers, though – It’s Not the End of the World (if I Lose Him / he’s Younger / he’s Married), shows up some weakness at the lower end of this singer’s register.

A five-piece onstage band (Musical Director Francis Goodhand) – keys, reeds, cello, bass & drumkit – partly obscured behind the model New York skyline, provides the orchestration. Sounding a little thin at times they may have benefitted from some support from the mixing desk, but it is delightful nonetheless for this music to be performed live.

Director Paul Foster moves Emma naturally around the small set, sometimes seated, sometimes not. She goes off stage between some numbers to reappear in a change of costume. There are numerous props for her to handle – a handbag to rummage in, a floppy hat (with an unintended problematic brim), letters to read and write, a bottle of whisky. On occasions, this incessant fiddling is all rather too busy and some further static moments would have been beneficial.

The four Letters Home to England document the character’s advances in her life and provide some humorous moments much enjoyed by this audience. Other highlights in Jodie’s performance are the sensuousness she shows within The Last Man in My Life and some deliciously sleazy movement in Sheldon Bloom. Both could have been pushed further, along with some greater show of anger in Let Me Finish and Let’s Talk About You. The title song is the standout song of the evening and Jodie smashes it, sobbing through the lyrics whilst maintaining beautiful musicality.

If the largeish audience is disappointed that the intended Jodie is not available, they do not show it and after this short one-half of an evening would happily have welcomed the replacement Jodie back onto the stage for more of the same.


Reviewed by Phillip Money

Photography by Tristram Kenton


Tell me on a Sunday

Cambridge Arts Theatre until 2nd October then UK tour continues


Previously reviewed at this venue this year:
Copenhagen | ★★★★ | July 2021
Absurd Person Singular | ★★★ | September 2021


Click here to see our most recent reviews