Gunmetal Blues (Hornchurch)

It’s an extremely stylish production with some good performances. But somehow it doesn’t quite come off.

Sarah Scowen & Sean Needham
Sarah Scowen & Sean Needham

We're is one of the less reputable districts of the Big City, the sort which is home to one-man offices up rickety stairs and downstairs bars with their neon signs as faltering as the clientele.

Our hero, if you can call him that, is a private eye, answering to the name of Sam Galahad. His hang-out is a slightly sleazy bar with a trio which has long ago lost any real musical aspiration it might have harboured, led by pianist Buddy Toupée, and featuring Carole Indigo, a singer as unsteady on her high heels as she is on some of her top notes.

Adrian Watts, a property developer with even less scruples than the norm, has been found shot. Suicide, or murder? Why has his heiress daughter Jenny disappeared? Is Carole, who was apparently Watts' girl-friend involved? Watts' blonde secretary calls on Galahad to investigate, something which the police feel is more of a hindrance than a help.

This they make painfully clear. But a private eye has his own sources of information, including a blind beggar-woman who sees more than most people. It's all brilliantly staged by designer Norman Coates and director Bob Carlton, well acted with good instrumental playing and reasonably well sung.

There are five actor-musicians in the cast. Saraj Scowen plays all the women, nicely defining each of them. Sean Needham is Galahad, a man who has learnt his cynicism the hard way. Greg Last makes much of the piano player, coming into his own with the second half opening number "Buddy Toupée – Live".

Simon Jessop and Steve Simmonds carve up the other male characters, mostly thoroughly unpleasant, between them. "Shadowplay", "The Blonde Song" and "Jenny" are the best of the numbers. Craig Bohmler and Marion Adler's score and lyrics to Scott Wentworth's book suit the genre tidily enough without ever really being memorable.

If sheer inventiveness of staging and committed performances were the only criteria for judgement, Gunmetal Blues would be a winner. But, for me at any rate, it doesn't quite pull it off.

Gunmetal Blues runs at the Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch until 20 September.