You’d be excused for an arched eyebrow over the revival of Mart Crowley’s inspirational 1968 play. So much has changed since this iconic gay text threw a spotlight on a small section of a marginalised community that the play is bound to feel dated. Thankfully, while some jokes do feel old, a couple inexcusably so, Adam Penford’s pacey revival, with the help of a superb cast, makes this a lively night out that stands up well.
A birthday party is hosted by the initially charming Michael, whose demons get the better of him as he concocts a painful game – forcing people to telephone their one true love – with the seeming aim of making his guests as miserable as he is. Ian Hallard makes the most of this meaty role, showing a vicious edge that is riveting while never alienating the audience.
Hallard’s chemistry with his old roommate Alan, who makes a surprise appearance with predictable comedy results, is well studied. When this closeted character, ably handled by John Hopkins, breaks down it’s still a shock. All the more credit as the conservative fiction Alan hides behind seems especially weak. Both Hopkins and Hallard do well to preserve the drama here.
The unhappy birthday celebrations are for Harold, played by Mark Gatiss, who makes an appearance as the first act closes. Too clever for anybody’s good, especially Michael’s, Harold’s waspish remarks cut deep and Gatiss makes each one go a long way, balancing humour and emotional perception no matter how short each line. It’s a cumbersome role, with touches of a narrator, that’s cleverly made light work of.
As for the rest of the guests, the ensemble is one you would invite to any production. They include a top-notch comedy turn from James Holmes as the effeminate Emory, ably abetted by Bernard (Greg Lockett) and the excellent Daniel Boys as the studious Donald, who superbly anchors the play. A troubled couple, whose affection for one another is sincere, are made convincing by Ben Mansfield and Nathan Nolan. Even Jack Derges as a hustler hired as a present for the night gets laughs out of a slim part.
With the exception of Hallard’s role, all the parts are pretty thin. Crowley’s desire to express a spectrum of characters and opinions gets the better of him and never quite works. More credit to the cast. The plot could be generously described as functional. The production, though, makes the play more than the sum of is parts – full of memorable touches and great laughs – and it’s an achievement worth celebrating.
Until 30 October 2016
Photos by Darren Bell