Tag Archives: Harvey Fierstein

Safe Sex

Safe Sex

★★★★★

VAULT Festival 2020

Safe Sex

Safe Sex

Network Theatre

Reviewed – 10th March 2020

★★★★★

 

“the production captures the sense of hysteria which defined the lives and loves of a generation of gay men”

 

The trauma of living through the AIDS crisis has been covered well in the theatre from the hard-hitting musicality of “Rent” and “Falsettos” to the powerful no-nonsense “The Normal Heart” and “Angels in America.”

Harvey Fierstein’s restless comedy-drama “Torch Song Trilogy” played its own important part in the charge in 1981, while his lesser-known “Safe Sex” trilogy (three separate plays rather than one play in three acts like its predecessor) appeared on Broadway in 1987, only receiving a partial UK premiere in 2014.

As part of the VAULT Festival, Network Theatre concentrates on one-third of that trilogy in its staging of “Safe Sex,” a 40-minute piece that stands alone rather well mixing dramatic intensity with Fierstein’s lighter touches.

It features two young men who were once in a relationship, went their separate ways, then got together again but this isn’t a tragedy about one catching AIDS and both living with the consequences. Rather this is about how a fear of the disease affects those living in its shadow and how sexual relationships are altered by the spectre of the deadly virus constantly hovering in the background.

The night of romance turns into a reminiscence about the carefree days of sexual encounters prior to the disease becoming widespread and how AIDS affected so radically the lives of those touched by it without having it. In those days, as the characters point out, “the worst you could get from loving somebody was a broken heart.”

For one, Ghee (a vulnerable Sam Neal, laying down the rules to prevent the transmission of AIDS, but revealing his own sense of inadequacy and needy nervousness), the desire for playing things safe and taking necessary precautions becomes more of an excuse to avoid intimacy, as years of repressed anger and hidden memories are unleashed. Neal manages to tackle Fierstein’s big speeches without ever once making them sound like the preaching of a lecture or a rant.

The other person in the relationship is Mead (George White blending tough love with a simmering sensuality), who has to spend most of the play being criticised about his perceived lack of cleanliness (“I’ve seen dogs fall in love with grass where you’ve walked barefoot” jests his partner).

In the trading of insults there is much to laugh at as well as a great deal to think about and the production captures the sense of hysteria which defined the lives and loves of a generation of gay men.

The original production used a giant see-saw as a set and in an odd decision director Jacob Trenerry, who otherwise succeeds in making the drama feel absolutely contemporary and relevant to today, sets the action on what is supposed to be a see-saw but is in fact a large white plank resting on two black boxes, with a flimsy piece of card (which fell off) representing the fulcrum. It’s disappointing as it means the emotional ups and downs aren’t reflected by the non-operating teeter-totter at all and things remain too static.

That said, the venue and encompassing festival are a perfect setting for a revival of this important play and the production allows the anger and fear about an epidemic to resonate in an era where anything goes.

 

Reviewed by David Guest

 

VAULT Festival 2020

 

 

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Torch Song

Torch Song

★★★★★

Turbine Theatre

Torch Song

Torch Song

 Turbine Theatre

Reviewed – 6th September 2019

★★★★★

 

“McOnie does a spectacular job of adapting Torch Song for the contemporary stage”

 

The Turbine Theatre is a brand-new venue set beneath the railway arches south of Battersea Power Station. Exposed brickwork, modern furnishings and large windows reflects the theatre’s desire to create productions with a ‘new energy’ for ‘contemporary audiences’.

What better way then to open the inaugural season with a revival of Harvey Fierstein’s seminal work, Torch Song. Directed by Drew McOnie it tells the story of drag queen Arnold Beckoff (Matthew Needham) and his quest for true love in 1970s Manhattan. He first falls for a confused bisexual man named Ed (Dino Fetscher) who dithers between him and girl-next-door Laurel (Daisy Boulton). Fed up with Ed’s lack of commitment, he starts dating young model Alan (Rish Shah) before tragedy strikes. Years later, he adopts a gay teenager named David (Jay Lycurgo) and attempts to rebuild his relationship with Ed. All the while, longs for the approval of his Ma (Bernice Stegers).

Needham has fantastic chemistry with all his co-stars. Needham and Ferscher are thoroughly convincing in the role of agonised and confused lovers, and Needham’s witty back and forth with Lycurgo is enchanting to watch. Lycurgo brings a great energy to the stage, and Stegers switches effortlessly between the comic stereotype of the overbearing Jewish mother and the wallowing widow. Stegers and Needham’s arguments about love and loss will have the audience on tenterhooks.

The set (Ryan Dawson Laight) is amazingly adaptable. A neon sign hangs above the stage indicating each of the parts in Fierstein’s trilogy  – ‘International Stud’, ‘Fugue in a Nursery’ and ‘Widows and Children First!’. In the first act we see just Arnold’s makeup dresser and two phones. The second act – one bed, though the way in which the actors interact with the space creates the illusion of two separate rooms and beds. The set becomes marvellously elaborate in the third act as the audience is transported to Arnold’s new home. The décor is gaudy and thoroughly 1970s. Bright green counters at the back and a working oven are used by Ed to make an unappealing breakfast of eggs, onions and kippers on stage.

The apartment set is dismantled seamlessly to transform into the street outside. Low blue light and cold air pumped into the audience tells us it is night. The lighting (James Whiteside) is used well elsewhere too, notably, to create the dingy surroundings of a nightclub’s ‘backroom’ where men engage in anonymous sex.

Torch Song is both touching and raucously funny. The characters are flawed but entirely relatable due to this, and the script is excellent. The play’s issues of love, loss and acceptance are still relevant today making Fierstein’s work a timeless insight into the human condition. McOnie does a spectacular job of adapting Torch Song for the contemporary stage and this is definitely a production worth shouting about.

 

 

Reviewed by Flora Doble

Photography by Mark Senior

 


Torch Song

Turbine Theatre until 13th October

 

Previous shows covered by this reviewer:
The Knot | ★★★★ | Old Red Lion Theatre | June 2019
Vulvarine | ★★★★★ | King’s Head Theatre | June 2019
50 Years Of LGBT/Pride Panel And Discussion | ★★★★ | h Club | July 2019
Have I Told You I’m Writing a Play About my Vagina? | ★★★★ | The Bunker | July 2019
The Falcon’s Malteser | ★★★★★ | The Vaults | July 2019
Type On Paper | ★★★★ | Tabard Theatre | July 2019
Camp | ★★★ | Lion & Unicorn Theatre | August 2019
Towards Zero | ★★★★★ | The Mill at Sonning | August 2019

 

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