Opening its new Spring season, the Octagon goes back to its roots with a revival of Bolton lad Bill Naughton’s beady-eyed look at the Swinging Sixties.
Alfie has appeared as a novel, a play and an iconic film, the latter, in the Oscar-nominated Michael Caine version, being the image of the piece that is likely to be lodged in most people’s minds. So, there’s work to do if a live stage revival is going to hold its own against that.
David Thacker’s - puzzlingly slow-paced - production underlines the dark heart of the piece, decidedly not underplaying that fact that it’s a vicious self-centered schemer with no respect for others who is at the centre of the story.
Alfie juggles his life and his women like a circus performer and tries to abandon relationships as soon as they hint at complications. Now, after years of ducking and diving and constant denial, his world has started to come apart, slowly, his version of ideal bachelorhood failing to stand the test of reality.
David Ricardo-Pearce certainly looks like the sort of chap who will attract the ladies. He’s darkly handsome and generally physically well set up but, I’m afraid, in the first half in particular, he fails to inhabit the role with any conviction, often delivering his lines with seemingly little understanding of what he is actually saying.
This first half is also ponderously slow. Things do improve somewhat in the second, where Naughton’s script become less episodic as it concentrates on Alfie’s relationship with a young innocent from Bury escaping her northern life for London (Former Corrie star Vicky Binns) and powerful scenes involving a back street abortion.
It’s this latter strand of the play that always sticks in the mind and it is very well done here, with a strong performance from Isabel Ford as one of Alfie’s older unfortunate victims and John Branwell as the abortionist. The ever-reliable Branwell also provides several other notable cameos.
Ricardo-Pearce too is somewhat more convincing as this second part progresses, so perhaps he was feeling the weight of his responsibility rather too much earlier on – he is hardly off stage for more than two-and-a-half hours – and was getting into his stride later. Hopefully he can hit it running from the beginning in future performances.