Review: Alfie Brunton Theatre

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Alfie **** Brunton Theatre

EVERY girl's had an Alfie in her life at some point. An incorrigible rogue who tries it on at every opportunity. In fact, Alfie's the quintessential bad boy, a self-absorbed womaniser who objectifies and uses the girls he meets at every opportunity.

Yet playwright Bill Naughton has given our eponymous anti-hero, made immortal on celluloid by Michael Caine in 1966, a secret weapon that makes us joyfully collude with him – the ability to chat to the audience. You watch his behaviour with a curious detachment. Rather than an abusive Lothario, Alfie becomes more like a reprehensible brother, that geezer down the pub who always has a couple of birds on the go.

Cinematically, Alfie is chiefly remembered for Michael Caine's charismatic Cockney and a particularly harrowing depiction of back-street abortion. The story, however, is much more concerned with the character's journey of learning to humanise women and discovering empathy, moving from describing the girls he encounters as "it" to "she". Ostensibly, this reflects the mores of the time, society's new perception of women as more than wives and mothers, and the deep changes that took place within the fabric of daily life.

The play's action begins with the end of an affair and Alfie discovering that his latest squeeze is pregnant with his child. It's not a situation he wants to be in but, as the story unfolds, the audience have a glimpse into the life of a man whose words often starkly contrast with his actions, particularly as he grows attached to his son.

The Blackeyed Theatre's production of the show at the Brunton Theatre on Saturday captured just the right tone. Edward Elks' Alfie is a swaggering insouciant Cockney wide-boy with Caine's looks but his own, less knowing take on the character. He's supported by a cast that are equally at home playing in the onstage band as they are switching roles and characters continually throughout the play as Alfie encounters new situations.

There are pleasing touches in Adrian McDougall's direction, having characters pass items to each other as they pass on the mantle of furthering the story and Lisa Howard's post-interval tea lady doing a bit of stand-up to fill in when Alfie's late back: "It's amazing what you can get up to in 15 minutes."

The sets are well thought out and move effortlessly into place, Alfie's constant scene setting an unnecessary adornment.

Tom Neill's musical direction is cohesive and fitting, dovetailing perfectly with McDougall's stage directions.

There are sensitive turns from Gabrielle Meadows as Gilda, while she works on Alfie to allow her to keep their child, and Courtney Spence as her bus conductor admirer, also putting in a poignant turn as a widowed cabbie visiting Alfie in hospital.

Ben Harrison's Harry, in the same hospital scene, is wonderfully anxious as he waits for his wife's Sunday visit.

To catch Alfie, however, you'll have to be quick. The production plays its last date in Scotland tomorrow before heading to Alnwick the next day. And who doesn't like spending an evening flirting with a bad boy?