The Seven Year Itch at the Queen's Theatre

If there's one thought that stuck in my mind as I witnessed Mike Radford's new production of The Seven Year Itch unfold at the Queen's Theatre, it's that the 1952 sex comedy has dated badly. Very badly. Belonging to an altogether more innocent era, it now comes across as too drawn out and sometimes just too uneventful to keep modern day audiences enthralled - and that's even with Hollywood film star Daryl Hannah around to lend some glamour.

For those who don't know the plot of George Axelrod's play, it concerns a very married New Yorker Richard Sherman (Rolf Saxon) who suddenly, and against character, develops a taste for blondes when his wife and kid depart for a holiday.

Though the middle-aged publisher Sherman begins his week sensibly enough (binge drinking rasberryade because he's on the wagon), his good boy act soon disappears when an attractive, but decidedly dim-witted ingenue (Hannah) leases the apartment upstairs. After the blonde almost kills him with a plummeting plant pot, the protagonist is soon trailing her like a dog on heat, although he seems to spend an eternity thereafter fantasising, and suffering from paranoid delusions and guilt trips, before finally ending up in the sack with her.

Saxon is on decent form, in a Walter Matthau-ish sort of way, as the self-obsessed Sherman (I particularly liked the way he pops his cork from a phallic champagne bottle), but the main disappointment is that Ms Hannah puts in a weak performance. In fact, her big mistake is that she does precisely what you hoped she wouldn't when taking on the role, namely attempts to impersonate the star of the famous 1955 film version, Marilyn Monroe.

Although Hannah can't hold a candle in the wind to Marilyn (her voice is too whiny to be truly sexy) there are some members of the cast who lend good support as they wander in and out of the apartment during various flashbacks and dream sequences, like Deborah Weston as Sherman's wife Helen and William Hope as cad-about-town Tom. Anthony O'Donnell is also amusing as Dr Brubaker, the high-brow shrink who reluctantly finds himself authoring low-brow fiction.

Designer Tim Goodchild's Gramercy Park apartment with its cutaway walls and roof terrace is an authentic, though not particularly imaginative, backdrop to the action, though this is enlivened by Harry Harrison's atmospheric lighting effects, especially those that portray the Manhattan skyline at night.

But it's sad when you come away from a play being more impressed by the music, (a mixture of show tunes, jazz, and Sinatra) than the action on stage. The Seven Year Itch may have been fresh, and even racy in the days when folks took cocktails before dinner; now it's merely soporific and anachronistic.

Richard Forrest