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Review: Mad as Hell, at Jermyn Street Theatre

Story of Network actor Peter Finch is an enjoyable romp

16 February, 2018 — By Samantha Harding

Stephen Hogan as Peter Finch in Mad as Hell. Photo: Eddie Otchere

EVEN after his shattering performance in Network and his posthumous Oscar win, I paid very little attention to the actor Peter Finch. That was until I saw his turn as the irascible surgeon to Audrey Hepburn’s coquettish Sister Luke in The Nun’s Story in my teens.

Then I looked up Finch’s back story, discovering his affair with Shirley Bassey and that his Jamaican wife, Eletha, picked up his best actor Oscar in 1977. She did so with a halting, humble speech that might have had one thinking she was his housekeeper rather than his wife.

Naturally the moment is included in this production with a much more raucous rallying cry on Oscar night.

Vanessa Donovan in Mad as Hell. Photo: Eddie Otchere

Writer Adrian Hope and co-writer/director Cassie McFarlane have done a good job exploiting our prurient curiosity – the race and class chasm, Jamaica’s colourism obsession, the juxtaposition of his hell-raising years with his final, blazing turn as Network’s Howard Beale, and that iconic “Mad as Hell” title that sells the show.

The actors start off a little nervously – Stephen Hogan’s Finch needs to be more charismatic and sanguine as the whole first half centred on him.

The two women, Vanessa Donovan’s Eletha and Alexandra Mardell’s Scouse girlfriend Debbie, are both workmanlike, getting across the race and class message with assured performances.

The second half is much stronger with the actors giving fiery life to a hilarious conversation about Rastafarians and playing reggae in the house. Of course we had to have a Beale outburst and that final moment when Eletha collects her husband’s statuette. An enjoyable romp – theatre for Hello! readers – with the pull of an unusual, starry story at its centre.

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