Set in 1938 during a hot New York summer, Clifford Odets play is about a hen-pecked married man coasting through life who has his head turned by his beautiful, young and slightly ditzy new secretary, Cleo Singer. But Ben isn't the only person who falls for Cleo and when it comes to deciding between her and his wife, he isn't the only one making a decision.
This being the National Theatre, Rocket to the Moon is of course beautifully produced with an impressive period set and rain storm when the weather finally breaks. Neither can you fault the acting. Jessica Raine is superb as the simple, love-struck Cleo, as is Keeley Hawes as the manipulative and domineering Belle Stark, although it's a relatively small part. But the character I enjoyed most is Belle's estranged father Mr Prince played by Nicholson Woodeson.
Mr Prince is a widow and a rich man despite the depression but he has fallen out with his daughter and is frustrated with Ben's lack of ambition and general lack of joie de vivre. But he too falls under Cleo's spell.
The problem I had with Rocket to the Moon is despite the effervescent Cleo and lively Mr Prince the first half is very slow. It concentrates on the changing relationships between Cleo, Ben, Mr Prince and Frenchy the chiropodist who has an office down the corridor but I'm wracking my brains to try and remember anything particularly stand out in terms of plot or scene.
*plot spoilers* In the second half another potential love interest is introduced, Hollywood agent Willy Wax (Tim Steed) in whom Cleo sees a chance to realise her dream of becoming a dancer. Jealousy creates a rocket of sorts as the men vie for Cleo's attention.
Of course the irony is that it is the simple and naive Cleo who gets the measure of all the men and there is a great scene where she reveals her analysis of them. But ultimately she loses Ben, the only one she actually loves back to his wife. If this is supposed to feel a little tragic then it didn't quite sound a deep enough note. Ben has it in his power to turn around his life into something that is richer and more live-able but fails to grasp the opportunities, which is sad but did I really care? Not really.
It gets three stars from me. There aren't any reviews yet on UpTheWestEnd.com and it is still in preview.
Jessica Raine also appeared in Gethsemane with Adam James who was in The Pride with Mr W over in New York last year.