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The Tailor-Made Man review at White Bear Theatre, London – ‘scintillating performances’

Tom Berkeley and Mitchell Hunt in The Tailor-Made Man at the White Bear Theatre, London. Photo: Andreas Lambis Tom Berkeley and Mitchell Hunt in The Tailor-Made Man at the White Bear Theatre, London. Photo: Andreas Lambis
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Drenched in the glitter and sleaze of 1920s Hollywood, Claudio Macor’s tale of sex scandals and open secrets at a major studio remains stingingly relevant some 25 years after its first production.

The Tailor-Made Man of the title is real life movie star William Haines, whose open homosexuality saw him fired and forcibly forgotten by his bosses at MGM.

Macor’s play revels in its golden age setting, stirring famous names, acidic humour, and some distinctly larger than life characterisations into the mix. As Haines, Mitchell Hunt dominates proceedings, a wisecracking clown with a booming, earnest voice, equal parts Jimmy Stewart and Jim Carrey. When he lets his guard down, though, he displays an affecting rawness. Between scenes, Tom Berkeley narrates as Haines’ faithful lifelong partner Jimmie, shedding light on their tender and bittersweet 50-year love affair.

Dean Harris, meanwhile, oozes menace and authority as archetypal studio boss Louis B. Mayer, both ruthless businessman and self-appointed moral arbiter. A passing line where Haines calls him out on his exploitative, predatory behaviour could hardly feel more timely.

Mike Lees’ smart, simple set is dressed with period furniture and vintage recording equipment. A hand-cranked movie camera pivots about the space, turning its lens onto characters at key moments. Director Bryan Hodgson gives the story a spirited, high energy treatment, with each snappy scene bookended by offstage shouts of “cut” or “action!” Both heightened and heartfelt, his production captures the feeling of an era poised between hedonism and repression.

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Scintillating performances energise this revived biography of a largely forgotten Hollywood icon