Wednesday, October 17, 2018

That strange and beautiful thing called love

'Do you know what le vice anglais really is? It's our refusal not to admit our own emotions.'  This bitterly self-deprecating acknowledgement from Sebastian, jaundiced literary critic in Ustinov Studio's In Praise of Love, is at the painful heart of the drama.  From an unpromising start of domestic trivia and mutual irritation, this deceptively multi-layered story builds up to a gripping and immensely moving tale of mutual deception and self-deception, all for love... To say more would be a spoiler if you don't know Terence Rattigan's 1973 play, though probably it wouldn't spoil your enjoyment of this production directed by Jonathan Church, carefully set in time and place by designer Tim Hatley and achingly well-acted by Robert Lindsay and Tara FitzGerald as the deceiving couple.  Robert Lindsay is awesome as the disillusioned ex-novelist who sneers at his son Joey - sympathetically played by Christopher Bonwell - and addresses his wife like Christopher Robin's Nanny,  but when he tells his friend Mark about her backstory in Estonia he could break your heart.  Social mores of the '70s are strongly established in the script, nostalgically for someone of my generation, and it's also a painful critique of the collapse of political optimism: Sebastian still claims Marxist purity in his left-wing rants, and despises Joey's Liberal idealism not so much for the puerile rebellion it probably is, but as 'crypto-fascist vote-splitting to let the Tories in'.  The story was famously largely inspired by the unhappy true story of Rex Harrison losing his wife Kay Kendall to leukemia, but the terrible legacy of national aggression, as evidenced in the history of Estonia, is a strong strand too.  Showing till 3 November -book now, you won't regret it. Image: Nobby Clark

Moving forward twenty years, in a housing estate somewhere in South East London where people shout a lot, Leah, Jamie and Ste are growing up in a world obsessed with sex, spliffs, and Sally from Coronation Street. Beautiful Thing at Tobacco Factory was written and set in 1993, when being 'queer' while no longer illegal after the age of 21 is still a taboo subject in schools - and a bruising insult on the streets. Jonathan Harvey's drama must have seemed mainly a gay coming-of-age story when first performed, but as times and teens change it's become a lens on a very different & less technically sophisticated world. Director Mike Tweddle's production boasts community involvement via a large local choir who add musical energy while also ensuring enthusiastic audience response, and the cast of five were excellent, especially Jamie (Ted Reilly) who compensated for limited utterance with hugely expressive eyes, and his mother (Phoebe Thomas) who managed to create genuine personality beyond the neighbourhood-loudmouth stereotype. On till 27th then touring.
Images Mark Dawson

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