Review: The Tailor-Made Man

4 star rating
Stylish costumes and set provide the ambience for a humorous and entertaining tale, ellucidating the life of a little-known movie star pilloried because of his sexuality.
The Tailor-Made Man at the White Bear Theatre

Image: Eastlake Productions

Closes here: Saturday 25 November 2017

Claudio Mancor

Bryan Hodgson


Mitchell Hunt - William "Billy" Haines

Tom Berkeley - Jimmie Shields

Peter Dewhurst - Hoper/ Thalberg/ Roderick

Henry Felix - Victor Darro

Edwin Flay - Howard Strickling

Dean Harris - Louis B. Mayer

Rachel Knowles - Carole Lombard/ Pola Negri

Yvonne Lawlor - Marion Davies


The Tailor-Made Man, the powerful true story about the Hollywood studio system and its hypocrisy and the star who gave up everything for the man he loved, is to get a 25th anniversary production in London.

William "Billy" Haines was a popular silent screen MGM movie star who was fired by Louis B Mayer because he was gay and refused to give up his lifelong partner, Jimmie Shields, and marry the silent screen vamp Pola Negri.

As punishment, his films were removed from release and sealed in the MGM vaults never to be seen again, and his studio photographs destroyed.

It was an attempt to erase him completely from movie history.

But Billy and Jimmy's turbulent, passionate love affair was to survive and lasted over 50 years ... this is their story.

ActDrop reviews

Peter Brown

Performance date: Thursday 9 November 2017
Review star rating image for 3 stars

Back in the days of silent films, Hollywood actors faced a different kind of harassment ministered by movie moguls who insisted that their stars provide their adoring public with the virtuous and puritanical facade of glamorous femininity or wholesome masculinity.

But, as this 25th anniversary revival of Claudio Macor's play reveals, many of Hollywood's stars had other ideas and inclinations, especially when they were off-set or out of the limelight.

That forced the hands of ruthless studio bosses like Louis B Mayer, ever-ready to take action when any of his stars strayed from the required path, even going as far as destroying careers if need be to preserve the public face of the film industry.

Photo of William Haines 1928

Photo: William Haines 1928

It's 1922, and silent movies still reign supreme in Hollywood as bubbly newcomer William "Billy" Haines is offered a movie contract.

Before long, Haines is ramping-up his starring roles and his popularity at the box office.

But Haines is gay and promiscuously so, much to the contemptuous loathing of his boss, Louis B Mayer, who seeks to force Haines to tow the line by marrying starlet Pola Negri.

In spite of his roaming affections, Haines was in a relationship with long-suffering partner Jimmie Shields.

Elegant and suitably sparkly costumes from Mike Lees provide the essential element of glamour in Bryan Hodgson's evocative interpretation of the period and this cogently-told and sometimes moving story.

Though Mr Hodgson's production is engaging and peppered with humour, there were times when he needed to exercise a tad more control to dampen over-exuberance.

Mitchell Hunt as William Haines certainly has the handsome looks, cheekily endearing charm and self-assurance for the role.

But there were times when both his vocal delivery and performance in general proved overly loud and strident - a case where a little less could actually have been much more, even if the character was obviously used to exaggerated actions and emotions in his work in silent films.

Dean Harris as Louis B Mayer in The Tailor-Made Man at the White Bear Theatre

Dean Harris as Louis B Mayer - Photo by Andreas Lambi

Dean Harris impresses as the gravelly-voiced, unerringly bombastic and priggish Louis B Mayer, and there's good work too from Edwin Flay as the studio's public relations supremo who does Mayer's dirty work for him, covering-up the foibles of the stars and manipulating them as required.

Tom Berkeley finds exactly the right pitch and tone in a subtle and somewhat understated performance as the stoical and loyal partner, Jimmie Shields, contrasting perfectly with his ebullient movie star partner.

The recognisable accoutrements of the sound stage and the times - an old hand-cranked camera, a candlestick telephone and a leather chaise-longue prove entirely adequate and appropriate to express the historical perspective and setting.

Mitchell Hunt as William Haines in The Tailor-Made Man at the White Bear Theatre

Mitchell Hunt as William Haines - Photo by Andreas Lambi

If you're unfamiliar with William Haines's work, or even his name, that's probably because his films were consigned to the inaccessible studio vaults when Haines was summarily sacked by Mayer who attempted to erase the star from movie history when he refused either to marry or follow the strict code of behaviour the studio boss insisted on.

All was not lost, though, for either Haines or Jimmie Shields - they went on to establish a highly successful interior design business and their relationship endured for over 50 years.

Stylish costumes and set provide the ambience for a humorous and entertaining tale, elucidating the life of a little-known movie star pilloried by the powerful because of his sexuality.

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