Tag Archives: Alex Marker

Staircase

Staircase

★★★

Southwark Playhouse

Staircase

Staircase

Southwark Playhouse

Reviewed – 25th June 2021

★★★

 

“John Sackville and Paul Rider command the stage throughout and restore the sense of period with their finely nuanced performances”

 

It’s difficult to imagine now that when Charles Dyer’s “Staircase” was first produced for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1966, the Lord Chamberlain savaged the script, demanding cuts. A few expletives had to go (beggar replaced bugger), as were some fairly innocent references that were deemed to have a ‘homosexual’ context. But the hugging was allowed. The irony is that Covid 19 has finally achieved what the Lord Chamberlain couldn’t. The two actors in Tricia Thorns’ revival at Southwark Playhouse don’t touch. Thorns always suspected that lifting the restrictions would be delayed and so she took that into account. Whether intentional or not, this distancing has the fortunate side effect of heightening the sense of secrecy, surreptitiousness and suppression that surrounded same-sex relationships in the sixties.

Dyer’s two-hander is very much a period piece. Set in a Brixton barber’s shop it explores the fear and insecurity felt by Charlie and Harry (John Sackville and Paul Rider respectively); two gay men who run the salon. It examines what Oscar Wilde described as ‘the love that dare not speak its name’. In 1966, if you were gay you could end up in jail. Of course, times have changed hugely since then, but the sense of isolation and loneliness that Sackville and Rider bring to their roles still resonate.

It is tempting to read into the script the autobiographical content – especially as the playwright has used his own name for one of the characters, and an anagram for the other. Charles Dyer and Harry C Leeds are an odd couple. We know they are a couple, but there are moments when that certainty falters, and we are reminded of the bygone television sketches in which Morecambe and Wise are sitting up in bed in their pyjamas. There is often too much innocence and ‘playing it safe’ in Dyer’s script which is undoubtedly a result of the time in which it was written, but it does soften the impact of the message.

In today’s climate this might be a struggle for the actors to get a solid grip on the characters and there is the constant danger of the writing appearing dated. But John Sackville and Paul Rider command the stage throughout and restore the sense of period with their finely nuanced performances. Sackville’s Charlie is a bit of an egoist, and very much in denial. An actor who hasn’t acted for over a decade and a father who hasn’t met his daughter yet. With a failed marriage behind him, he is clinging onto this fragile façade as a defence in an upcoming trial for dressing in drag and sitting on a man’s lap. Rider, as Harry – the slightly older lover, teases and torments while betraying an underlying hurt that Charlie is denying him his one stab at happiness.

After the interval the play gathers momentum as the disagreements give way to a vague harmony. It remains unresolved though, which reflects the brittle hope that the characters feel. A change is coming, but for the moment it’s not quite enough for them.

In retrospect, that change was a long time coming. Yes, we have come a long way since the sixties, but this show can serve as a reminder that there is still a way to go. Stigmas may disappear but internal repression often pervades. “Staircase” begins as a comedy but step by step you discover two lonely souls, unable to fully be themselves, or be with each other. It’s a fairly slow ascent, but the final touches to the piece are reward enough for making the climb.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Phil Gammon

 


Staircase

Southwark Playhouse until 17th July

 

Previously reviewed at this venue in 2021:
You Are Here | ★★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | May 2021

 

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Go Bang Your Tambourine

★★★★

Finborough Theatre

Go Bang Your Tambourine

Go Bang Your Tambourine

Finborough Theatre

Reviewed – 8th August 2019

★★★★

 

“A wholesome odd-couple plot, interlaced with serious questions of morality, loyalty and duty of care”

 

As a general rule, give me a ticket to a three-hour fringe production of a play written in 1970, never performed in London, and I will give you a whole bunch of explanations why I sadly can’t attend. So I was more than pleasantly surprised to find that ‘Go Bang Your Tambourine’, directed by Tricia Thorns, is compelling, concise, and heartbreaking.

Young, bashful David (Sebastian Calver), an eager Salvation Army soldier, has lost his mother. His father, Thomas Armstrong (John Sackville), absent for the past four years, returns for the funeral to find David waist-deep in religious zeal and the wholesome SA way.

Living alone in his mother’s house, David is persuaded to take in a lodger. But rather than the appropriate young catholic boy working at the local chemist, he invites Bess Jones (Mia Austen) to rent the room. A bartender at the Golden Lion, Bess is a whole lot worldlier than David, and a fair bit older. But she’s respectful and sweet-natured, and most importantly, David believes, she was sent by God.

A wholesome odd-couple plot, interlaced with serious questions of morality, loyalty and duty of care.

Calver starts off looking like a wounded puppy for the entire first act, which wears a little thin – sad people don’t look sad all the time. Thereafter, however, he conveys an intimate understanding of his character – the occasionally funny, but mostly heart-rending combination of childish naivity and very real misery. After not too long the audience feels very protective of young David – I almost accidentally heckled in his defence in the second act, but just about managed to restrain myself.

Sackville plays the villain skilfully. Writer Philip King was not so binary in his understanding of what makes a man, and Sackville embodies this mess of humanity and cruelty, so that whilst the audience is certainly not on side, it’s hard to know exactly how much blame to lay at his door. Austen is similarly complex in her performance, making room for certain of Bess’ choices which might have appeared to contradict her nature, but which instead give depth to her character. Patience Tomlinson, playing the role of Major Webber of the Salvation Army, is understated but effective.

The entire play takes place in David’s sixties living room: dizzy floral wallpaper, lots of brown furniture and a space heater bizarrely covering the fireplace. Considering the set (Alex Marker) never changes and the play goes on nearly three hours, you might consider this a recipe for very dull disaster. But somehow, the audience is captivated throughout. The incredibly complicated relationships between each of the characters, thick with paradox and uncertainty, fill the stage and time to capacity. A story fundamentally about a naïve nineteen-year old boy living with a savvy Yorkshire lass, director Tricia Thorns brings us a tale full of nuance, coiled intensity and honest contradiction.

 

Reviewed by Miriam Sallon

Photography by Phil Gammon

 


Go Bang Your Tambourine

Finborough Theatre until 31st August

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
A Funny Thing Happened … | ★★★★ | October 2018
Bury the Dead | ★★★★ | November 2018
Exodus | ★★★★ | November 2018
Jeannie | ★★★★ | November 2018
Beast on the Moon | ★★★★★ | January 2019
Time Is Love | ★★★½ | January 2019
A Lesson From Aloes | ★★★★★ | March 2019
Maggie May     | ★★★★ | March 2019
Blueprint Medea | ★★★ | May 2019
After Dark; Or, A Drama Of London Life | ★★★★ | June 2019

 

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