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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
THE PRIDE
at Trafalgar Studios

NEGLECTED HEARTS
By JOHN NATHAN

  Al Weaver and Mathew Horne/ Ph: Marc Brenner

Alexi Kaye Campbell's time-shifting offering, first seen at the Royal Court in 2008, features two versions of its three main characters. One version lives in liberal London now, the other in the unenlightened 1950s, when to be gay meant living a life of secrecy, and having to send and receive the subtlest of signals in order to make contact with other gay men.

Married professionals Sylvia (Hayley Atwell) and Philip (Harry Hadden-Paton) have a cordial relationship with writer Oliver (Al Weaver), whose new book Sylvia is illustrating. And it is during the polite conversation held between these three at their first meeting that Oliver and Philip transmit almost subliminally subtle signals to each other, such as laughing slightly too enthusiastically at a mildly amusing joke, or holding eye contact for longer than heterosexual men ever would.

But one of the men, Philip, is in denial about his sexuality. Later, explicit overtures from Oliver are stonewalled. Philip would rather live a lie under the cover of his sexless marriage, whatever the cost to himself – or to Sylvia – than admit to a sexuality he abhors. And it's this repression – partly self-imposed but mostly imposed by widely held attitudes – that forms the tension in Campbell's first act.

The scene in which Sylvia attempts to broach the subject with her husband is spoken entirely in euphemism, which paradoxically reveals more about the lives of these people than a cards-on-the-table confrontation ever could.

This alone would be enough of a recommendation. But because Campbell interlinks these scenes with his characters' modern-day counterparts, who live in anything-goes London of the 21st century, the structure of his writing makes as much impact as the drama it generates. 

Time-shifting plays invariably elicit the adjective "Stoppardian" because of the master's masterpiece Arcadia, which was set in the 19th and 20th centuries. As with most of those cases, to call The Pride Stoppardian would be to overstate matters. But its fizzing first act, which is the majority of the play, is still one of the best new pieces of drama this century, even if in the second, much of the good work is undermined by on-the-nose, issue-led writing. There is an unnecessarily declamatory exchange between 21st-century Oliver, a sex-addicted gay journalist, and his best friend Sylvia about the gay protest movement. There is also a very writers' agenda-led scene that depicts 1950s homosexuality as a disease of the mind.

The performances are all top-notch. Hadden-Paton is devastating as the secretly gay man shackled by convention to a marriage, and Atwell is full of poise as his neglected wife. Weaver is terrific depicting latter- and modern-day versions of gay men, and Matthew Horner turns in two flashy but enjoyable cameos as a gay escort and lads' mag editor.

Campbell's subsequent issue-led offerings – such as Faith Machine, about the business ethics of multi-national corporations – have been too laboured in their argument making. But the light touch used in The Pride makes this a play about which he can justifiably be proud. 

 


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