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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
THE PRIDE
at Trafalgar Studios

TRANSFORMATIONS
By CLIVE HIRSCHHORN

  Mathew Horne and Al Weaver/ Ph: Marc Brenner

As Valdimir Putin continues to deliver body blows to the gay cause in Russia, Trafalgar Studios presents a cracking revival of Alexi Kaye Campbell's 2008 The Pride. First seen at the Royal Court Upstairs in 2008, this timely production reverberates afresh in the capable hands of its original director Jamie Lloyd, and if anything, it's even better now than it was five years ago.

The opening scene is set in a flat in Pimlico in 1958 and plays like a typical West End offering of the period. Philip (Harry Haden-Paton), a middle-class estate agent, and his wife Sylvia (Hayley Atwell), a former actress turned book illustrator, entertain Oliver (Al Weaver), a writer of children's fiction, whose latest book Sylvia is illustrating. Their conversation is witty and civilised, if a tad awkward at times, and it soon becomes clear that under a surface gloss of normality, a sexual spark is ignited between Oliver and the latently homosexual Philip.

In complete contrast, the second scene jumps to 2008, and although all three characters retain their names, they have become very different people. Oliver is now a sexually promiscuous journalist whose rampant behaviour dooms the relationship he is having with Philip. It's not helped when Philip walks in on a hilarious sado-masochistic encounter between Oliver and a rent-boy (Mathew Horne) dressed in full Nazi regalia. Sylvia, meantime, has morphed into Oliver's best friend and confidante, whose own relationship with a hunky Italian tests her loyalties.

If the structure of the piece – which veers between the past and the present – appears somewhat schematic in theory, it works brilliantly in practice, as it graphically illustrates just how far homosexuality in Britain has progressed in the last 50 years or so. The irony at its core, though, is that gay liberation doesn't automatically equate with happiness. Philip and Oliver are just as unfulfilled in 2008 as their counterparts were in 1958. 

Aside from the comic Nazi set-piece, the scenes that make the greatest impact all take place in the earlier time zone – most notably a painful confrontation between Sylvia and Oliver after she discovers he and Philip have, in her absence, made love in her marital bed. Philip's encounter with a psychiatrist who is attempting to rid him of his true sexual desires through aversion therapy also packs quite an emotional punch, while Sylvia's eventual acknowledgment that her marriage can never work is heartbreaking. 

Atwell is particularly good in both her incarnations. Hadden-Paton and Weaver also effectively ring the changes on the two contrasting sides of Philip and Oliver, while Horne, in the showiest role of all, reveals his versatility as the Nazi, the psychiatrist and an over-eager editor of a lad-mag. Soutra Gilmour's excellent set replicates her work on the original Royal Court staging. A terrific revival of a fine play.

 


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