Writer: David Stevens
Director: Gene David Kirk
Reviewer: Stephen Bates
Warm, cosy and old-fashioned, David Stevens’ 1990 comedy plays like a cross between an early episode of Neighbours and an American family sitcom from the same era. The great surprise is that it is only now getting its UK premiere.
After a long run off-Broadway, the play was turned into an award-winning 1994 Australian film starring the then little known Russell Crowe. These successes could have owed much to the factors that worked for Jonathan Harvey’s Beautiful Thing in the UK – a depiction of gay characters in a wholly positive light at a time when, influenced by the AIDS crisis, negativity in theatre and cinema was the norm. The play’s novelty value has now gone, but it is replaced by a dash of nostalgia that adds to this new production’s appeal.
Harry has been a widower for more than a decade and he shares his house, somewhere in Southern Australia, with 24-year-old Jeff, whom he calls “as much a friend as a son”.Jeff is openly gay, but Harry stresses that he plays football and has never favoured pink.Essentially, the story is a father/son version of a bromance.
Stephen Connery-Brown’s Harry is a cheery, mischievous rogue with a gift for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. When Jeff brings home his new boyfriend, Greg (Rory Hawkins), Harry walks in at an unfortunate moment to introduce himself and then, as Jeff gets out of earshot, he grabs the opportunity to give Greg fatherly advice on safe sex. He does not understand the gay world but accepts it and takes consolation from the knowledge that his own mother found happiness in a 40-year lesbian relationship. All he wants for Jeff is that he finds similar happiness.
Australian actor Tim McFarland has a natural, relaxed manner that is perfect for Jeff. The character, perky but self-deprecating and lacking in confidence, describes himself as “dull”.He longs for a stable relationship, but procrastinates over making the first move andalways loses out.
The key ingredient in making this production so enjoyable is the chemistry that hasdeveloped between Connery-Brown and McFarland. They play off each other with perfect timing and lead us to believe that a genuine unbreakable bond exists between father and son. Several times during the play, the action freezes and either Harry or Jeff turns to the audience to share a confidence or relate an anecdote. Handled beautifully, this device gives depth to the characters and adds texture to the play.
Stevens does not turn a blind eye to disapproval outside the partnership, as seen in the hostile reaction of Harry’s date, Joyce (Annabel Pemberton) upon receiving the news of Jeff’s sexuality. However, Gene David Kirk’s direction gives the play a lightness that enables it to skate safely over sensitive issues.
Designer David Shields gives us a living room set, with comfortable furniture that looks right for the early 1990s and then converts it into a park for a poignant final scene in which the play goes in a new and unexpected direction.
Stevens’ funny and heartwarming comedy here gets a top class production, making it worth the long wait to see it.
Runs until 4th October