What: Filthy Business
Where and when: ASB Waterfront Theatre, until August 29
Auckland companies staging overseas scripts can always be a little hit and miss. When something is so intrinsically shaped by its Americanisms or Britishness, and is then uprooted and brought halfway around the world, you're really hoping that those themes and regional peculiarities are able to translate.
Auckland Theatre Company's version of English playwright Ryan Craig's Filthy Business is an example of when that goes wrong. Set in 1960s London, the story follows Yetta Solomon (Jennifer Ludlam) and her bickering family as they try to hold her flailing rubber empire together.
A Jewish immigrant, Yetta is proud of the business she built from nothing and rejects the changing world around her that threatens to take it away. She is a cacophony of contradictions, her familial love at odds with her economic drive.
Ludlam is commanding perfection as the fiery matriarch, taking Yetta's shtick and filling it with equal parts heart and malice.
Yet that bold conflicted personality causes Filthy Business to become lost in importation.
The script is so defined by Yetta's struggles and her outlook, as well as Craig's own family history, that the themes of entrepreneurship and family remain frozen in one particular time and place, unable to break through this domineering character.
The plot itself is solidly traditional, which is by no means a bad thing, though those hoping for something fresh may be bored by the predictable if amiably executed storyline.
Filthy Business works best in act one, a fine balance between family drama and comedy, but it leaves you wanting more from the Solomon's world. Act two fails to deliver, the grounded story obliterated by a pointless subplot and twists lacking in logic
Colin McColl has at least directed an outstanding cast. ATC veterans Andrew Grainger and Adam Gardener are excellent as Yetta's warring sons Nat and Leo, while recent graduate Joe Witkowski nearly steals the show as Mickey, Leo's future-focused son. Jodie Dorday's brief appearance as Nat's wife Carol is a hilarious highlight.
If it wasn't for Daniel Williams' delightfully eclectic set, there would be little here to truly bring the East End to life. A more local, relevant interpretation may have worked better, but Filthy Business in its current form, much like Yetta's rubber, simply doesn't sell.