Musical The Third Man has opened at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London, and reviews from London theatre critics are starting to come in.
The Third Man is based on the classic 1949 British film noir by Graham Greene, and this musical adaptation has been created by George Fenton (Mrs Henderson Presents) writing the music, a book by Christopher Hampton (Les Liaisons Dangereuses, God of Carnage), and lyrics by Don Black (Bonnie and Clyde, Tell Me on a Sunday).
The show is playing at the Menier Chocolate Factory until 9 September 2023.
Directed by Trevor Nunn, the show features a cast that includes Sam Underwood (Madame Secretary, Dynasty) as Holly Martins, with Natalie Dunne as Anna, Edward Baker-Duly as Calloway, Simon Bailey as Crabbit, Derek Griffiths as The Porter, Jonathan Andrew Hume as Paine, Rachel Izen as The Porter’s Wife, Gary Milner as Kurtz, Harry Morrison as Popescu, and Alan Vicary as Dr Winkel; and an ensemble of Chanice Alexander-Burnett, Craig Bartley, Cassiopeia Berkeley-Agyepong, Leah Harris, Aly Merali, Tom Sterling, Samantha Thomas, and Tim Walton.
The Third Man is about an American who arrives in Vienna to accept a job with his friend, Harry Lime, only to learn that Lime has died. Viewing his death as suspicious, he elects to stay in Vienna and investigate.
The wider creative team for the show is Set and Costume Design by Paul Farnsworth; Lighting Design by Emma Chapman; Sound Design by Gregory Clarke; Orchestrations by Jason Carr; Musical Supervision and Direction by Tamara Saringer; and Movement and Choreography by Rebecca Howell.
Read reviews from the Stage, Telegraph, TimeOut and more, with further reviews to follow.
The Third Man - A Musical Thriller reviews
"A slick, wistful new musical"
"Trevor Nunn directs an effective production of this ‘musical thriller'"
"... so was it a good idea to turn it into a virtually set-free musical in a small theatre? Yes, is the delightful – and, I’ll admit, slightly surprising – response to that question. Trevor Nunn, indefatigable as ever at the age of 83, directs a slick and effective production of what is subtitled a “musical thriller”."
"The Third Man’s songs move elegantly across genres... Lovely as the songs are, there are a couple too many of them, occasionally dissipating the mounting tension of the story."
"I mean it as an immense credit to this production when I say that it has whetted my appetite for yet another viewing of the film."
"Atmospheric and eccentric version of classic noir"
"The songs may not compare to the 1949 film’s zither music, but the design amplifies Trevor Nunn’s elegantly shadowy production"
"The surprise is that this musical version of the 1949 film, directed by Trevor Nunn, does not fall on its face. While the songs pass muster, its triumph is in its monochrome design, which seems like a black and white film come to life. Paul Farnworth’s set encapsulates the look and feel of a noir together with Emma Chapman’s lighting, which throws out an elegant welter of lamplight, long shadows and thrillerish effects."
"George Fenton’s music, with Don Black and Christopher Hampton’s lyrics, has a few strong numbers – Café Mozart by Baron Kurtz, sung by Gary Milner, Paul and Claus, by Dunne – but many more anodyne ones."
"Ultimately, the production is let down by pace, which feels oddly sleepy but there are gorgeous aesthetics and plenty of atmosphere to see us through."
"Musical adaptation is an ambitious near-miss"
"In the end, Christopher Hampton, Trevor Nunn and co don’t provide a totally convincing answer to the obvious question: why bother trying to make a musical out of one of the most atmospheric films of all time? But give them some credit for creating a brooding, ambitious near-miss."
"Don Black’s lyrics playfully namecheck Stefan Zweig and Arthur Schnitzler, although they lapse into sentimentality whenever romance rears its head. Above all, Paul Farnsworth’s monochrome, rubble-strewn set design offers a clever approximation of the film’s portrait of a battered imperial city where the impoverished locals are reduced to using cigarettes as currency. Emma Chapman’s austere lighting goes some way to reproducing Reed’s stark, expressionist shadows."
"Sam Underwood is required to play Holly (so brilliantly portrayed by Joseph Cotten in the movie) as a bit of a dolt who breaks into tears at regular intervals. Natalie Dunne makes the most of a droll vamp’s song in the nightclub scene, but is often saddled with trite sentiments that seem to belong in a different show altogether."
"Atmospheric aesthetics and crisp choreography can’t disguise the lacklustre songwriting in this downbeat musical thriller"
"This stylish but unsatisfying new musical adaptation, with book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton – who worked together on the similarly noirish Sunset Boulevard – captures a little of the mystery and melancholy of Greene’s story, but never generates enough menace to feel gripping."
"The lyrics here are flat and often bluntly descriptive, lacking the cynical bite that the story demands, while a few chirpy, comic numbers feel sharply out of place. George Fenton’s nicely moody score makes occasional knowing references to Anton Karas’ iconic zither theme from the movie. But for the most part, the music here is classic crime-thriller fare"
"Still, directors Trevor Nunn and Michael Oakley stage the piece masterfully, evoking a decadent, disintegrating Vienna populated with a shifting crowd of desperate beggars, tense soldiers and ruthless black-market brokers."
"It’s just a shame that the lacklustre songwriting doesn’t match up to the stylish production."
"A crime against a masterpiece of cinema"
"Trevor Nunn’s new stage show transforms Carol Reed's all-time-great 1949 film noir into a lame musical sadly full of unintentional comedy"
"There has been a murder!” sings an outraged group of Viennese citizens. It’s one of several moments in this misbegotten new musical where Graham Greene’s taut thriller plot slackens into unintentional comedy, drawing titters from the audience. Alas, this is a crime against adaptation: slavishly recreating Carol Reed’s peerless 1949 film noir work on stage, but without its vital elements."
"The Third Man didn’t even need additional music; it already has Anton Karas’s haunting zither. The zither does pop up in George Fenton and Don Black’s Viennese-waltz- and doleful-ballad-heavy score, as Trevor Nunn’s production dutifully ticks off the movie highlights: ferris wheel, balloon seller, cuckoo clock speech, sewer chase. We’re just missing the cat – but perhaps Nunn has had his fill of musical moggies."
"Despite its gloomy Fifty Shades of Grey styling, Nunn’s production loses the all-important moral murk."
"Sam Underwood’s Martins is anachronistically, and irritatingly, weepy and whiny, physically contorting as though suffering the after-effects of a bad curry. Natalie Dunne supplies a sweet singing voice, but Schmidt doesn’t have much to say. Edward Baker-Duly and Jonathan Andrew Hume fare best as the decent British chaps, while Derek Griffiths lends poignancy to the doomed porter, and Simon Bailey delivers a passable Orson Welles impression."
"Dreadful, pointless musical desecration of the film noir masterpiece"
"The tragedy of ‘The Third Man’ – not in the West End but in the 200-odd seat Menier Chocolate Factory – is that it aspires to artistry and so fails all the more."
"Sam Underwood’s Martins is skittish, paranoid, it’s a decent performance, as is Natalie Dunne as cold love interest Anna. The rest of the cast doesn’t have much to work with."
"Fenton, known for his film and TV music, furnishes the show with an unceasing and permanently bland score, vaguely gesturing towards klezmer, which keeps forgetting to break into song. When a song does randomly and pointlessly appear, it’s set to Don Black’s hokey lyrics with rhymes visible from space (‘At times he drove me mad, but he was the truest friend, the best I ever had’)."
"There is nothing to justify its existence on stage. Pointless and boring, the best thing about ‘The Third Man’ is the fact that it won’t make the slightest bit of difference to the legacy of the film."
"Please, not everything has to be turned into a musical"
"The creative team has a record of turning unlikely subjects into musical gold. Not this time"
"Pretty much everything that makes the movie great – the wearily cynical performances, the stark-shadowed set pieces in the sewer and on the Ferris wheel, the slow unravelling of illusions – is diminished by the transition to the stage and the addition of songs."
"There seems to be no shape to George Fenton’s score, which mostly consists of fragmentary themes that never develop. The exceptions are the strong numbers, mostly romantic and mournful but one of them lewdly comic, in the style of Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret, that are allocated to Natalie Dunne as Lime’s lover Anna"
"On the plus side it’s beautifully designed by Paul Farnsworth, in monochrome but with splashes of colour in the nightclub scenes. And it’s handsomely mounted by director Trevor Nunn, who works some familiar magic and reworks some old tricks. But the whole thing feels under-prepared, over-emphatic and frankly misconceived."
"Theatrical Hitmakers Can’t Make This Misbegotten Thriller Sing"
"As it turns out, the mystery at the heart of the show is not the expected “Whatever happened to Harry Lime?” – the man of the title – but what possessed a creative team as distinguished as director Trevor Nunn and bookwriter Christopher Hampton to imagine that what Carol Reed’s still-astonishing classic film needed was to be taken offscreen and planted onstage with added songs. The dismaying production provides no answer."
"The only major shift is to take advantage of songs and turn Harry’s girlfriend, the remote Anna Schmidt, from an actor into a cabaret singer. Natalie Dunne gets to perform two of them efficiently which might have yielded dividends had the songs been suitably pointed, unexpected or exciting."
"The lyrics throughout, co-written with the equally experienced Don Black, are almost routinely mis-stressed"
"There’s a reason there are so few musical thrillers: It takes longer to sing something than to say it, and slowing everything down is the last thing you want in a thriller where taut action is of the essence. These songs do nothing to tighten, much less drive, the proceedings. Graham Greene’s original story and screenplay create gripping layers of subtle emotion from doubt through desire to disappointment. Here, everything is loudly displayed but never earned. A show already almost devoid of dramatic tension winds up feeling episodic, limp and painfully long."
"A musical Third Man hits a bum note"
"It is a truly dangerous liaison. Theatre and movies, that is. Its perils are proved in The Third Man. Two of the most skilled screenwriters and playwrights, Christopher Hampton and Don Black, have collaborated with one of the most versatile screen composers, George Fenton, to doubly translate Carol Reed’s 1949 film noir: to the stage, as a musical. Trevor Nunn directs. The talent is apparent but threads of charm only expose the loss consequent on shrinking one of the most sinister and far-reaching of films."
"It would be imaginable to remake the whole action through her eyes, as an extended torch song. Lose the literalness: let the many-layered plot hint and swirl. The result may be less flaccid, more fearsome."
"We hear a snippet of Anton Karas’s Harry Lime theme just once in Trevor Nunn’s new staging of the seminal 1949 Carol Reed-Graham Greene film noir The Third Man, but its effect, unfortunately, is to remind us of what we are missing. Even with music by George Fenton and book and lyrics by Christopher Hampton and Don Black (hugely experienced all), this show feels like a pale imitation of the original."
"That’s a shame, because Paul Farnsworth’s atmospheric, crumbling set and monochrome costumes, Emma Chapman’s expressive, shadowy lighting and Nunn’s restless staging evoke a woozy sense of destruction and destitution in war-scarred Vienna."
"The elusive, supple storytelling doesn’t translate: scenes feel abrupt and truncated. Perhaps most dismayingly for this ambitious but misfiring venture, the compulsive, lingering unease of the film just doesn’t arrive."