You may remember the classic film The Maltese Falcon, in which Humphrey Bogart played hard-boiled ‘tec Sam Spade, who deals with a mystery package, a mysterious femme fatale, and a jovial “fat man”. That was one of the most entertaining film noirs of classic Hollywood.
The Falcon’s Malteser is based on the novel by Anthony Horowitz, in which the Diamond brothers Tim and Nick are in business to solve crimes, help clients, and get into scrapes. When one Johnny Naples visits them and leaves a mysterious package, a sequence of unlikely events is set into motion.
Tim (Matt Jopling) is endearingly dim, either presenting a vacant expression or facial contortions which evoke the spirit of Monty Python’s perennial policeman, the late Graham Chapman. In fact Fergus Woods Dunlop’s adaptation of the book is Pythonesque throughout, with silly set-ups, daft characterisations, some groan-enducing puns, and even the occasional explanatory song.
Nick (Sian Eleanor Green) is a talkative thirteen year-old who acts as our narrator (reliable or otherwise). In a beanie hat and a constant air of optimism, he is clearly the brains behind the outfit, and it seems almost a shame that he shared the original surname of “Simple” with his brother.
If you remember the Tennants Pilsner lager adverts with Vivian Stanshall’s narration, you’ll recognise the pastiche displayed in the characters of Horowitz’s “Fat Man” (a thin woman, who has only eaten yogurt for a year), and Himmel, a textbook assassin with a Germanic accent. The memory of Stanshall’s wordplay (“Have you got a light, mac? No, but I have a dark brown overcoat”) comes back at various points during The Falcon’s Malteser, which entertains with a parade of pulp fiction staple characters shared between two performers, Fergus Leathem and Samantha Sutherland.
If there is the occasional longeur during this 80-minute piece, the laughs and the filmic references (Lauren Bacardi!) more than make up for it, Lee Lyford and his cast pitch the silliness and segues perfectly, and Carl Davies’ set design (revolving doors, a window, a desk, a hatstand, a gravestone, a telephone, a gun) works well with the farcical pace. Even a missed discard of a prop adds to the fun.
The titular Maltesers prove something of a McGuffin, with the solution being attached to something much more prosaic (if scientific, as described by Nick’s science teacher, improbably discovered just at the right time). Still, this is light and entertaining fare, as sparkling as the Diamond brothers and the gems sought by the bad guys.
One word of warning, though, The Vaults does not have the best sight-lines in the world, so be prepared to bend your neck a bit and do head gymnastics to catch the action going on at floor level.
The Falcon’s Malteser continues at The Vaults Theatre until 25 August 2019. Photo credits Geraint Lewis.