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The Man Who Was Thursday

Deception surrounds Gabriel Syme, a British detective who infiltrates London’s underground Supreme Anarchist Council. If a hierarchized council of...

Photograph: Marni Keenan
The Man Who Was Thursday (2009)

Deception surrounds Gabriel Syme, a British detective who infiltrates London’s underground Supreme Anarchist Council. If a hierarchized council of anarchists sounds odd to you, you’re on to something. Nothing’s what it seems in this complex thriller.

New Leaf advertises Dardai’s new adaptation of G.K. Chesterton’s 1908 novel as “part comedy of manners, part outright farce.” This tonal split proves the primary flaw in an otherwise vibrant production. Thursday provides loony physical farce and honest-to-God thrills. But on the lips of American actors, the script’s intermittent Shavian wordplay (protracted puns on revolt, for example) sounds like a klutzy vestige of the source material, slowing the opening significantly.

It’s a minor quibble for a piece that flirts with the spectacular—in both the general and the Phantom of the Opera senses. Dardai has structured his tale deftly, establishing a Council of caricatures who eventually swell into seven distinct, larger-than-life sidekicks. Expert performances from leads to hyperstylized stagehands provide a perfect complement.

Yet the director and her designers supply the evening’s vital force. Hutchinson could have easily relied on her venue’s Oxbridge-like wood paneling for old-world ambience. Instead, she uses frenetic nightclub lighting and a bit of forced audience movement to transform two compact rooms into several wide-ranging locales. These techniques plus some booming hipster music compel us onto our toes—exactly where we must be to absorb Thursday’s onslaught of twists and turns.

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