Tag Archives: Seven Dials Playhouse

“Diary of a Somebody” at the Seven Dials Playhouse

Few doubt Joe Orton’s plays are brilliant and important. But to judge from his diaries, which John Lahr uses for this play, he was a pretty awful person. Lahr’s strategy for success, shared in this admirable revival, is to make someone so unpleasant good company – at least for a couple of hours.

George Kemp takes the lead as Orton and has no choice but to carry the show. It’s Orton’s voice, after all – monotonously so – and Kemp manages to bring an impish humour to proceedings. Orton’s self-presentation is so forceful, with so little self-doubt, that the show teeters towards repetition.

To the credit of Lahr (and Orton), there’s no censorship of any kind here – the idea that this is a political or philosophical point is interesting. Orton’s offensive approach to sex tourism isn’t hidden, and his misogyny, racism and arrogance throughout are uncomfortable. How much a wicked sense of humour excuses any of this is up to you.

Almost despite Orton, Diary of a Somebody is really the story of two men. Orton’s partner (and killer) Kenneth Halliwell is awarded a detailed depiction, performed here by Toby Osmond. The play’s emotional moments are effective. Osmond makes sure his character’s struggles with mental health receive more sympathy from the audience than they did from Orton.

George-Kemp,-Sorcha-Kennedy,-Ryan-Rajan-Mal,Toby-Osmond,-Jemma-Churchill-and-Jamie-Zubairi-credit-Brittain-Photography
George Kemp, Sorcha Kennedy, Ryan Rajan Mal,Toby Osmond, Jemma Churchill and Jamie Zubairi

The couple are joined by Jemma Churchill, Sorcha Kennedy, Ryan Rajan Mal and Jamie Zubairi playing all the other characters. Marshalled efficiently by director Nico Rao Pimparé, it is the ensemble that makes the show digestible. Playing Orton and Halliwell’s neighbours is fun for both women. Delivering the brilliant letters Orton wrote under the pseudonym of Edna Welthorpe is a highlight for Churchill, and Zubairi’s Kenneth Williams is a pleasure.

“No fucking asterisks”

Maybe Orton was too honest for his own good (or, at least, for his reputation). He wanted to make sure his work and life contained “no fucking asterisks”. We can all appreciate that. But there’s a strong sense from Lahr’s work that these diaries were always meant to be seen. How suspicious does that make us? Orton never hid them from Halliwell, for a start, and the latter’s sense of being “an extra” in his former protégé’s “epic” became a tragedy for both men. Orton’s tone is often pompous, if fascinating – credit again to Kemp for ensuring a light touch to their delivery. It’s easy to admire this play and production, if not their subject.

Until 3 April 2022

www.sevendials.co.uk

Photos by Brittain Photography

“Steve” at the Seven Dials Playhouse

The European première of this neat comedy drama is a sensible bet for a new venue. Mark Gerrard’s play is a solid affair, Andrew Keates’ direction is sure-footed, and the cast is a dream. With the refurbished Actors Centre looking swanky, and exciting forthcoming productions announced (don’t miss Foxes), the Seven Dials Playhouse is off to a great start.

Steve has the eponymous character’s marriage, to Steven, under pressure, not least because of their young son Stevie. Their best friends are either starting a new life as a ménage à trois or sick. If this mid-life trauma is sadly predictable, Gerrard handles the tropes… by adding show tunes. And we all know, musical theatre improves everything.

To be clear, nobody actually sings. But Steve and his circle are obsessed with Broadway shows and the work of Stephen Sondheim in particular. No matter what – infidelity, parenthood, sex, death, and friendship – there’s a Sondheim song to quote. And there’s musical accompaniment from a pianist to suggest, to those in the know, what might be coming next.

When it comes to the humour, it helps to have a working knowledge of Sondheim’s work. I’m such a fan I’ve seen Do I Hear A Waltz? so I thought it was all hilarious. But with so many references to Into the Woods and Company there is a danger some of the jokes are obscure. That said, my favourite line was a reference to the Géricault painting, with Steve describing his group’s fading sexual attraction akin to a gay Raft of the Medusa. With the help of confident comedy skills from the cast, Gerrard’s wit should entertain all.

Joe Aaron Reid in Steve at the Seven Dials Playhouse credit The Other Richard
Joe Aaron Reid

It helps that Steve is appealing, aided by a sterling performance from David Ames. Even the character’s moaning is entertaining. But the central relationship needs work in the script as well as in the play. Joe Aaron Reid plays the husband and does well in a horrible scene where he is juggling phone calls on his own. But we need to know this character better.

For heart the play relies on friendship. Most notably with Carrie, dying of cancer yet still very much alive: full of intelligence, integrity and humour. Taking the role, Jenna Russell shows why she is an actress to never miss – each scene she is in is lifted immeasurably. There are many reasons to see the show, but it’s Russell that makes Steve unmissable.

Until 19 March 2022

www.sevendialsplayhouse.co.uk

Photos by The Other Richard