You can say what you like about Vladimir Putin (well, unless you live in Russia), but the Kremlin strongman’s repellent clampdown on gay rights seems to have galvanised a London theatre scene that’s been surprisingly wary of political shows of late.
There are two rapid response plays coming up on the fringe (at the King’s Head and Ovalhouse). And here, at Trafalgar Studios, the curtain call of ‘The Pride’ features all four cast members mishievously brandishing ‘to Russia with Love’ placards, a gesture that gives a final push and sense of purpose to this revival of Alexi Kaye Campbell’s 2008 Royal Court hit.
Set in both 1958 and 2008, ‘The Pride’ sees what appears to be the same love triangle play out in two very different eras. In 1958, closeted married man Philip (Harry Hadden-Paton) grapples violently with his feelings for writer Oliver (Al Weaver), while his fragile wife Sylvia (Hayley Atwell) looks on in impotent despair. And in 2008, the three seem to have been given their time again in a more liberated age… Yet they’re not happy – promiscuous journalist Oliver has fucked up his relationship with straight-laced Philip, and Oliver’s chronic neediness is seriously bringing his BFF Sylvia down.
‘The Pride’ is a probing, troubled and often brilliant play about gay identity which delves into the agonies of the past, celebrates the progress of the intervening years, and remains ambivalent about certain facets of contemporary gay culture: 2008 Oliver frequently comes across as a self-absorbed twerp, and there’s nothing to celebrate in his heedless promiscuity.
The three doubled-up cast members are all excellent, particularly Atwell (desperately decent and delicate in the past, warm and dappy in the present) and Weaver (heartbreakingly vulnerable and earnest in ’58, kind of an idiot in ’08).
Jamie Lloyd’s production is also stylish, zippy and surprisingly funny – for which a lot of the credit must go to Mathew Horne, who excels in a series of comic cameos, most memorably as a bitchy Nazi-imitator dominatrix.
Horne's amusing turn as a lads’ mag editor feels like one of several details that slightly dates the ’08 storyline; elsewhere Lloyd allows the ’58 plot to get a little overwrought, while I was wasn’t sold on the sub-‘Cloud Atlas’ hint of a cosmic link between the two eras (though it gives an excuse for Soutra Gilmour’s cool tarnished mirror set).
Still, the writing is strong, the acting brilliant, and direction mostly sharp with any slight datedness compensated for by that cheeky kiss-off to Russia.
By Andrzej Lukowski