The Man Who Came To Dinner at the Chichester Festival Theatre

Sheridan Whiteside is, quite simply, the houseguest from hell. Bad-tempered, egotistical, manipulative, demanding. No wonder the Stanley family s joy at having such a famous radio broadcaster and critic in their midst is short-lived. Unfortunately, his visit isn t.

An injury confining him to a wheelchair means he must spend the Christmas period in their small town Ohio home, insulting them and their friends while entertaining his own gaggle of outrageous showbiz chums.

This Moss Hart and George S Kaufman play is a solidly-constructed, three-act comedy which takes an age to build up steam under the direction of Joe Dowling. This sluggishness is partly due to a sometimes-uncertain performance from Richard Griffiths as the larger-than-life Whiteside (a character modelled on real life 1930s New York writer and critic Alexander Woolcott). Griffiths seems to be struggling so much with his American accent that he comes over as cuddly rather than curmudgeonly.

Things perk up no end in the second act as the luscious Issy van Randwyck breezes through the door as the predatory actress Lorraine Sheldon, who s been enlisted to break up the romance between Whiteside s secretary (an efficient Eve Matheson) and a would-be playwright (Seamus Gubbins). Then the play virtually grinds to a halt for Christopher Luscombe s unashamedly scene-stealing turn as Beverly Carlton, a witty English writer not a million miles from Noel Coward. And there s another diversion in the frantic final act with the arrival of an anarchic Harpo Marx-inspired character called Banjo who is played with gusto by John Guerrasio.

Though this production, the last in Chichester s main house summer season, lovingly recreates the period and features a few priceless cameos, you can t help but long for some judicious trimming to reduce the three hours running time.

Steve Pratt

The Man Who Came To Dinner continues in repertoire until October 9.