The Last Night in Soho review – Jack Nicholson rules the roost

Having the Alfred Hitchcock with a capital H you can’t not remember Hitchcock. And yet you still think it’s reasonable to want to know what it’s like to be us and living in the…

The Last Night in Soho review – Jack Nicholson rules the roost

Having the Alfred Hitchcock with a capital H you can’t not remember Hitchcock. And yet you still think it’s reasonable to want to know what it’s like to be us and living in the town where Hitchcock killed off the Unforgiven gang. Did they get away with it? Why is that one guy convinced they do? With fictional bar customer Jack, just not confident enough to buy it.

What is last night in Soho? Gritty, dark and at times dirty as hell – though what a beautifully busy bar!

And the Last Night in Soho, which opened on 18 September, is billed as “an immersive theatre/cinema complex”, a place where you feel like you’re Jack and can witness the gallows after a dodgy (but wonderfully inventive) shootout. Heck, it’s like that, but the play doesn’t come out and say it. It just tells you you’re at a bar watching a bar’s goings-on. It’s more fitting, really, because there’s a natural kind of chill you feel as you’re watching ordinary people in their busiest hours. And it’s not a fake bar! There’s obviously some magic, Jack.

There are some genuinely exciting roles in the performances, notably young Norm Lewis as Jack, Karen Parks as his steely mum. But the play wastes some really good ideas, squanders a great premise and costs itself too much money. It can’t be a behind-the-scenes theatre/Cinerama 3D masterpiece. Its old-school narrative is too flimsy to do the first 30 minutes justice.

A glimpse of the fantastic … a (fairly) full-circle final scene. Photograph: Tom Nevill

What makes The Last Night in Soho great, in retrospect, are the techniques and choices that made it so intriguing, from the involvement of Mr Horror, (Kate Dickie), Jack’s wild uncle, who makes an appearance despite (rightly or wrongly) still being wanted for murder; to how the coffee barman’s and the wife’s (Maria Bamford) phones work, as though it’s all part of the show. Many of us can pretend to behave like a member of the Ings – call out “Noisy” before ordering a coffee, and avoid a queue. People let them off their games, too, throwing themselves enthusiastically into fights and the occasional steamy moment. These funny little moments make the whole claustrophobic thing very watchable.

Sometimes the mechanics of the show are a tad tricky to follow, but overall, the production is so packed with rules and rules-that-aren’t that the predictable plot becomes wonderfully flexible. Here, the bar needs to go through midnight shifts to be organised and accounted for, so the proceedings feel live. There’s dancing and singing, suspense and murder, and of course bar talk – mostly, it seems, because Jack likes drinking and the friends he’s got around him like it. But also because they just don’t understand his cynicism, and they really want him to pull the wool over their eyes. You can see why: he’s as pretty as young Nancy Drew. You can just about see his success – he was the bane of our ears back in the 70s and 80s. But if you really do want to know how to be Jack, watch the real game. But don’t come here and do that. It’s over you.

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