The Usual Suspects

Christopher McQuarrie, adapted for the stage by Ricardo Pinto
2-Way Mirror Film and Theatre Productions
Customs House, South Shields, and touring
(2004)

Usual Suspects poster

When a theatre company charges £1 for a programme which is a folded two-sided A3 photocopy, a critic is entitled, I think, to wonder. When he sits in the theatre before the show begins and hears someone behind say, "Looks like the set's been photocopied too," and realises it's true, then a cold feeling of entirely the wrong sort of anticipation begins to permeate through his mind.

But we have to be fair, so we do our best to shrug off these feelings and settle down to watch the play.

The Usual Suspects attempts to recreate the Tarantino film onstage and fails dismally. What is achieved cinematically by a quick cut from one location to another, can only be done onstage by a blackout accompanied by moving (in this case, minimal) scenery, so the quick cut becomes a slow(ish) change. On the screen we cut to the scene and it's there, in its fully realistic entirety, with the characters in action: onstage we have the blackout, followed by the change, then the actors walk on and are seen against the minimal set (which, frankly, looked cheap and tatty).

In the cinema the heightened realism carries us along unrelentingly: onstage we struggle to suspend disbelief. Take, for example, the scene when the mysterious and scary Keyser Soze shoots Dean Keaton: this takes place in shadow-play behind a screen - fine, except that someone hadn't quite replaced the screen properly in a previous change and so the audience could clearly see the the actor disguising himself as Soze before the shooting and taking off the disguise afterwards.

The lighting didn't help. Some scenes were lit by three overhead spotlights focused straight down onto the stage, but far too often the actors weren't actually in the lights and so were very dimly lit by the spill and some low intensity fill. There would be sudden changes of colour: at one point the stage was bathed in green for no particular reason that I could see, which gave a luridly melodramatic effect. And why, oh why shine bright lights directly into the audience's eyes? All around the theatre people were trying to block the light so they could see what was going on.

The actors did their best to struggle against poor production values and a script which was totally unsuitable for the stage. There were quite a few empty seats after the interval: mine would have been among them but for a misplaced sense of critical duty.

Reviewer: Peter Lathan