Tag Archives: Michael Walters

Steve

Steve

★★★★

Seven Dials Playhouse

Steve

Steve

Seven Dials Playhouse

Reviewed – 15th February 2022

★★★★

 

“unquestionably funny and also heartbreakingly sad”

 

We need to talk about “Steve”. Or rather Steven. And Stephen. And Esteban (the Spanish form of Stephen). There’s another Steve, too, in Mark Gerrard’s tragicomedy who lurks, unseen, offstage but just as instrumental in the unravelling of the tightly knitted relationships of his namesakes and their best buddies. Even the late Stephen Sondheim is ever present throughout this production, to whom it is dedicated; his music a constant undercurrent, and wisps of his lyrics reverently scattered over the dialogue. There is something elegiac about Gerrard’s bittersweet tale. A parable, almost. Self-aware and conscious of the passage of time.

The play opens with Steven celebrating his 47th birthday in a downtown New York bar. Although not in a fully-fledged midlife crisis, Steven is struggling with the transition into middle age. A stay-at-home Dad, he is also grappling with the notion that his long-term partner is having an affair with his best friend’s partner. Meanwhile his closest confidante, Carrie, is terminally ill. Fuelled by vodka stingers he inevitably spills out his emotions, upsetting his guests and the glasses on the table. But no matter, Argentine waiter Esteban is on hand to clear up the literal and figurative mess. So, too, is the rewind button which replays the scene avoiding the outburst and offering a smoother transition into the unfolding narrative that follows.

Andrew Keates’ spirited and passionate direction perfectly mixes a human story with a heightened, almost musical delivery from the characters. Whenever it becomes a touch absurdist we are pulled back into the nitty gritty of everyday life. Infidelity, parenthood, monogamy, mortality, impending death, lost opportunities. We all know the score. We may have heard it before, but Gerrard manages to make it fresher by putting it in the context of same sex relationships. But even that concept, like the play’s protagonists, is reaching a certain age, and Gerrard is cleverly questioning whether the gay community itself might be having a midlife crisis. ‘Where do we go from here?’ he seems to be asking. While celebrating the huge progress made over the decades, there is a whole new set of questions now. Inspired by the passing of the New York marriage bill, Gerrard is reflecting on the double-edged nature of the milestone. “Oh my god, now we can get married. What are we supposed to do with that?”

This is definitely not a ‘be careful what you wish for’ scenario, however. Nor is it a caricature of the gay American Dream. The writing is too sharp for that and at times the sexuality is irrelevant. It speaks to everyone. It is fundamentally about relationships and friendships and how we look out for and after each other. It is unquestionably funny and also heartbreakingly sad. Keates makes us care deeply about the personalities laid bare before us, aided by his impressive cast.

David Ames holds the fort as Steven, hilariously abrasive and camp but deeply caring and easily wounded. Jenna Russell gives an absolutely glowing performance as Carrie, the bold and brazen lesbian confronting her terminal illness with more strength than all the men around her put together. All the performances are exceptional; strongly twisting the dialogue – wringing out the laughs and the tears in equal measure. The highs and lows are mirrored by Ben Papworth at the piano, echoing the emotions with his dynamic and varied accompaniment.

The phrase ‘Once Upon A Time’ is a leitmotif throughout the show that reminds us that this is a New York Fairy Tale – in many senses of the word. But it also reminds us that the happy endings promised are more elusive than we once thought. We have come a long way, Gerrard seems to be saying, but there’s still further to go. But, hey, forget the psychobabble – “Steve” is in essence a hugely entertaining tragicomedy. Sharper than most that cover similar ground, it cuts through societal and sexual divides and then unwittingly sews them together. It appeals to all of us – and is a ‘must see’.

 

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by The Other Richard

 


Steve

Seven Dials Playhouse until 19th March

 

Previously reviewed by Jonathan this year:
Freud’s Last Session | ★★★★ | King’s Head Theatre | January 2022
A Level Playing Field | ★★★★ | Riverside Studios | February 2022
The Devil’s in the Chair | ★★★★ | Riverside Studios | February 2022
An Evening Without Kate Bush | ★★★★ | Soho Theatre | February 2022
Us | ★★★★ | White Bear Theatre | February 2022

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

The Inheritance – 4 Stars

Inheritance

The Inheritance

 Noël Coward Theatre

Reviewed – 13th October 2018

★★★★

“Seeing a play on the West End that so unashamedly and honestly tackles gay male relationships (sexual and otherwise) feels in itself a remarkable achievement”

 

Epic in almost every sense of the word, ‘The Inheritance’, now enjoying a West End transfer after a sell-out run at the Young Vic, demands seven inspiring, moving, riveting hours to tell a story about how stories are shaped, and how they in turn shape those who listen to them.

A group of men are trying to tell their life stories but need help. Enter E. M. Forster, whose ‘Howards End’ forms the basis of Matthew Lopez’s ‘The Inheritance’, to help the boys along. Expertly played by Paul Hilton, ‘Morgan’ – with the help of the cast – becomes our narrator, introducing us to Toby Darling (Andrew Burnap) and Eric Glass (Kyle Soller), whose rocky relationship the play centres around. Taking place almost entirely in Manhattan, New York, the couple face eviction, jealousies, successes and failures, all the while embracing and reflecting upon the lives of gay men over the last hundred years with each other and the group of friends that surrounds them.

At its core, Lopez has woven an intoxicating tapestry of a show that demonstrates the problematic importance of legacy and community, especially for gay men today. We hear lots of stories. How these stories come together is the nature of ‘inheritance’. How do we learn how to be gay men? From each other? And what happens when that community of exchange breaks down? Drawing on the emotional devastation of the late-eighties/early-nineties AIDS crisis, Lopez suggests the trauma of one generation should be the next one’s inspiration.

Bob Crowley’s sparse design is gorgeously simple, and along with Stephen Daldry’s astute direction, exposes the theatricality of the endeavour, whilst giving the cast plenty of space to play. The often cumbersome narrative elements to the play are expertly handled by the cast and director, who places his actors almost constantly on stage, listening, commenting and waiting for their turn. The need to flip on a dime from exposition to ‘scene’ is wittily and effectively handled by the cast at large. Burnap is mesmerising in his performance as Toby Darling, larger than life, hilarious, yet always hinting at a dark past, the reveal of which the audience really has a long wait for. Kyle Soller is equally courageous in his performance, able to be sentimental without parody and believably naïve all the way through to the end. Andrew Burnap and Syrus Lowe stand out in a tight, generous and incredible ensemble.

‘The Inheritance’ is essential viewing for everyone. Seeing a play on the West End that so unashamedly and honestly tackles gay male relationships (sexual and otherwise) feels in itself a remarkable achievement. I would argue Lopez could have trimmed down this story by a few hours and we wouldn’t have minded, but this emotionally stirring and inspirational production is well worth getting cramp for.

 

Reviewed by Joseph Prestwich

Production photography by Marc Brenner

Cast image below by Johan Persson


The Inheritance

 Noël Coward Theatre until 19th January

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Quiz | ★★★★ | April 2018
The Lieutenant of Inishmore | ★★★★ | July 2018

 

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