Alex City Quiz Alex Prints and Originals

The Daily Telegraph
October 22nd 2007
By Charles Spencer


Well, I'm on a hiding to nothing with this one. Alex is not only a much-loved cartoon in the Telegraph, but the paper has also sponsored this stage adaptation.

What's more, recent strips about the devious investment banker have been shamelessly devoted to publicising the show (the theatrical equivalent, I suspect, of insider trading, and a matter that surely ought to be reported to the compliance department of the Society of London Theatre).

So if I say the show is a hoot, a riot, and an evening of irresistible merriment, you won't believe me and the Critics' Circle will accuse me of corruption. If I don't, I'll be facing the lonely walk to the human resources department to pick up my P45.

But damn it, what's a critic worth if he isn't fearlessly independent? So let me state firmly, and without fear or favour, that this show is the most appalling pile of meretricious rubbish it has ever been my misfortune to witness.

(YOU'RE FIRED – Ed)

Sorry, sir, just my little joke. And actually, seriously, hand on heart, Honest Injun, fingers most definitely uncrossed, this stage version of Alex really is great fun, and if you don't believe me and decide not to bother going, you'll be missing out on a neatly crafted, technically ingenious and often irresistibly funny show.

Nor is that the end of the good news. With a running time of only 80 minutes, there's ample time for city slickers to enjoy a slap-up supper at The Ivy afterwards.

Alex has been around for 20 years now (he and I both once worked for Robert Maxwell's London Daily News) and the wonder of Charles Peattie's and Russell Taylor's strip is that it remains so fresh, inventive and miraculously accessible to those like me who think a hedge fund is a means of financing a horticultural restoration project.

The big problem facing Peattie and Taylor is that a four-frame strip cartoon with a neat twist at the end is entirely different in structure from what's required on stage. And here the pair have come up trumps with a strong narrative in which Alex finds himself in deep doo-dah both at work (one of his clients is going belly-up) and at home (his wife Penny has just walked out on him).

The narrative fairly zings along in Phelim McDermott's production, liberally peppered with laugh-out-loud one-liners. And what makes it especially remarkable is that Robert Bathurst, as our eponymous hero, is the only flesh-and-blood character on stage.

All the others – Penny, Alex's boss Rupert, his friend Clive, the northern manufacturer Mr Hardcastle and the insufferable Gallic Eurotrash junior Sebastien – are represented by animated cartoons that appear on a number of different screens.

Bathurst has not only to interact with two-dimensional drawings, but also impersonate their different voices as well, and if this usually smooth and fluent actor sometimes stumbles a little, that's understandable so early in the run.

This is already a winning performance. Bathurst neatly nails the deviousness, smart-aleckry and moments of pure evil of Alex: the pinstriped financier owes more than a little to Richard III, and his direct addresses to the audience create a similarly conspiratorial atmosphere.

But Alex also proves unexpectedly sympathetic, even vulnerable, in Bathurst's stage incarnation, and how can you fail to warm to a character who makes you laugh so much?

Alex on stage looks like an enduring hit to me – and could I have my bung in cash please, in a brown paper envelope, to be handed over in the car park of Clacket Lane Services at 11.30pm tonight?