Writer: Alexi Kaye Campbell
Director: Jamie Lloyd
Reviewer: Matthew Nichols
What have we here then? A play? At the Opera House? The enormous touring venue, usually home to musicals, concerts and pantomime, has dropped a cloth across half of its stalls seating, and is home to this intimate chamber piece, from the Royal Court, via Trafalgar Studios. Hats off to the venue, then, for taking this celebrated modern favourite for a week. What a shame, though, that the play isn’t actually as good as its previous reviews might suggest.
Flitting backwards and forwards between two timeframes, Campbell’s piece looks at attitudes to gay life, psycho-sexual guilt, and the strain of living with things left unsaid. In the 1950s, Oliver (Al Weaver), a children’s author, comes over to Philip (Harry Hadden-Paton) and Sylvia’s (Naomi Sheldon) house for drinks before dinner. Here, it is quite obvious that there is a frisson of excitement between the two men. In the present day, on the eve of a gay pride march, Oliver seeks comfort from BFF Sylvia, having been chucked by his boyfriend, Philip.
Having the actors playing both rôles and keeping the names the same is a great idea, and pays dividends, especially when linked by some gossamer-like themes. This is an intricately and beautifully plotted play, which gains momentum from its elliptical narrative techniques. There are missed opportunities, though, to push this idea further, as the play explores the idea of memory, psychosis and modern malaise. If this sounds a little worthy and dull, well, sometimes it is. But it’s also very funny, with some beautifully observed and withering one-liners.
Problematically, the writing is uneven. The 1950s scenes, coming on like a lesser Rattigan piece, and offering a sort of Noel Coward at right-angles, bristle with tension, while the modern scenes echo Patrick Marber and Mark Ravenhill. Ultimately, the play doesn’t have a distinct voice or an original idea. Its reliance on lengthy monologues, and a determination to bend practicalities and realism to suit its characters’ needs becomes a little grating. If this play’s dialogue were as finely tuned as its construction, it would be something of a modern classic.
The acting is patchy, too. Naomi Sheldon’s modern Sylvia is wonderfully forthright as a contemporary gal pal (the play does a nice job of examining the changing rôle of women in the lives of gay men), but her 1950s illustrator fails to convince. Conversely, Harry Hadden-Paton’s repressed Philip is wonderfully detailed, though his contemporary counterpart pales in comparison. Al Weaver is absolutely mesmerising in both rôles, giving an astonishingly dextrous performance that manages to continually self-reference. Mathew Horne also does wonders with three incidental rôles, each of them sloppily written, but all making a lasting impact in his hands.
This is a frustrating experience, with lots of missed opportunity. It isn’t boring, and Jamie Lloyd’s production purrs along effectively, distracting from the writing’s shortcomings. The audience roared its approval at the curtain call, too. It is quite telling, however, that the most interesting and powerful moment in the evening comes from that final curtain call when the cast held up “From Russia, With Love” placards, as a message to Putin’s barbaric and terrifying ideas. The feeling remains that when the books on gay theatre are written, The Pride will warrant a footnote rather than a chapter heading.
Photo: Marc Brenner |Runs until 24th January 2014