The Syndicate at Minerva Theatre, Chichester

From left: Michael Pennington as Doctor Fabio Della Ragione and Ian McKellen as Don Antonio Barracano in rehearshal for The Syndicate  PICTURE: Manuel Harlan
From left: Michael Pennington as Doctor Fabio Della Ragione and Ian McKellen as Don Antonio Barracano in rehearshal for The Syndicate PICTURE: Manuel Harlan
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What a coup for Chichester to secure Ian McKellen for a world premiere – and what a coup for Gavin Fowler from Waterlooville, only a year out of drama school, to secure a pivotal supporting role.

McKellen, showing all his experience but no sign of advancing age in Mike Poulton’s new version of a play by Italian writer Eduardo de Filippo, grabs the attention from the moment he shadow-boxes on to the stage in a vivid dressing-gown.

He plays Don Antonio Barracano, a Naples ‘godfather’ who is never more dangerous than when he is at his most seemingly urbane and drily funny.

One slow, silent turn of the head from McKellen is a mini-masterpiece of acting amid the black comedy.

Such subtlety is demanded less in Fowler’s character, Rafiluccio, who wants to kill his father, but the actor shows impressive strength of passion and personal pride.

As the young man’s pregnant girlfriend, Annie Hemingway gives a delightfully and robustly witty performance.

Indeed Sean Mathias’s production is well-cast throughout, with Michael Pennington leading the way as the godfather’s doctor – a friend he threatens to kill rather than let go to New York. This is another outstanding Chichester performance by this strong, versatile actor.

Some aspects of the play itself need tightening but the production is unlikely to disappoint those who have made the run a sell-out already.

MIKE ALLEN