The songs blaring from the speakers pre-show place us firmly on the cusp of late 1980s/early 1990s.
Reset to Atlantic City, in a casino resort, Charlotte Westenra’s production has both work and home settings (at one stage a misjudged dream sequence straddling both). Anna Kelsey’s set and costumes necessitates razor-sharp changes, but sets the tone.
As this is a musical, of sorts, work is set around the band who accompany diners and gamblers. Annie Poole (Jacqueline Dankworth) fronts the entertainment. Jonny Caine (Norman Bowman) is her friend and fellow warbler, and he’s short on cash.
Throw in a pretty wife, Rebecca (Lizzy Connolly), and an amoral high roller, Larry (Ako Mitchell), with historical connections to the music biz, and, to quote another musical “you got trouble”.
In both Jack Engelhard’s book and Adrian Lyne’s 1990s film treatment, the couple are so impoverished they are set to lose their home to foreclosure. In the musical, they rent a room which has plaster falling from the ceiling, but both have jobs to keep them from the breadline.
When Larry (Jonny calls him “magnetic” at one point) proposes to Rebecca that she sleep with him for a million dollars, it highlights both the entitlement and misogyny of greed. She is seen as both desirable and disposable, and that is very problematic in this modern age.
Aside from Annie, the characters are mainly cyphers with little motivation. Larry parrots typical capitalist ideology about being rich and the American Dream, while Jonny and Rebecca seem to have no reason to risk their marriage unless it was already on the rocks.
One exchange between Annie and Larry, improbably meeting as he steps up to play the piano with no one else around, is interesting -the gist of it being that Annie, as a “nice old lady, broke and unemployed”, can only succeed if she is none of those things.
There’s a decent play here, but I’m not convinced it needs to be a musical. Michael Conley’s book and lyrics, with Dylan Schlosberg’s music, occasionally takes flight – mainly through songs performed by Dankworth – but often the music seems superfluous, however well-performed.
One clever bit in Act Two has an argument between the Caines effectively muting Rebecca’s speech in favour of Jonny’s sung self-pity. This says more about the power on play here than a fatuous “nice doing business with you” from Larry to Jonny.
This Indecent Proposal isn’t as seedy, shocking, or sensational as it could be.
You can catch Southwark Playhouse’s production of Indecent Proposal at their Large space until 27 November 2021 – purchase your tickets here.
Image credit: Helen Maybanks