This review was originally written for The Public Reviews.
After a successful revival of this 2008 play last year at the Trafalgar Studios, Jamie Lloyd has taken the production on tour. It is apt for the play to join the conversation along with the latest headlines on the Russian ban on homosexual propaganda and the discussion on gay footballers, by assessing how attitudes towards homosexuality have changed in Britain over the last fifty years.
The play looks at the relationship of Phillip, Oliver and Sylvia in 1958 and the same relationship in the present day. It follows the different stages of their relationship from meeting, breakup and reconciliation, jumping between the two eras. In 1958, Philip is married to Sylvia and she invites Oliver to dinner leading to an affair between Philip and Oliver. In the present day, Oliver has just broken up with Philip and Oliver is being comforted by his good friend Sylvia. And as the parallel of the two periods continues and their relationship develops and deteriorates, the play explores how the different sensibility of the times affect their choices and behaviour and their approach to their relationships.
It is an interesting device to use the same set of people at different period of time to look at the differences and similarities of how homosexuality is handled. The acceptance or nonacceptance of it, the universality of the pain of breaking up and the timeless nature of problems in any relationship are clear. But beyond that, the way the relationships play out is obvious and predictable. The rows and conflicts are overly dramatic and somewhat uninvolving. The director Jamie Lloyd does his best to liven up the action with some scene changes and swift costume changes and sound effects. But unfortunately, even the more jovial scenes do not quite balance the drama and engage.
This lack of involvement is certainly not due to any fault of the excellent cast. Harry Hadden-Paton is suitably uptight as Philip and the suppression of his feelings and urges is convincing. Al Weaver as Oliver is effeminate and not overtly camp, bringing out his emotional vulnerability especially in the modern day version of Oliver. Naomi Sheldon is fine as Sylvia but mostly has a reactive role. Mathew Horne as the matter-of-fact dominator in a Nazi uniform and the gay sensitive lads’ mag editor is certainly entertaining.
Perhaps something is lost as the production goes on tour but it is still an interesting play that highlights the issues discussed. It may not be hugely entertaining, but the acting and thoughtfulness of the writing means it will not disappoint.
Photo: Marc Brenner