Alistair McGowan is horribly convincing in this dubious drama
Jonathan Maitland, the author of ‘An Audience with Jimmy Savile’ says he never heard the rumours about the DJ-cum-child rapist during his years as a BBC journalist, which is surprising because I heard plenty of them as a schoolboy. Regardless, he has chosen Savile as the subject of his second play, following on from his decent debut ‘Dead Sheep’ earlier this year, which chronicled the decline of Margaret Thatcher, one of the swag-draped necrophile’s buddies back in the day.
The considerable and torturous press chatter about the rectitude and decency of producing a Savile drama has been missing the evidence of the play itself, and the fact of the matter is that however careful Maitland has been to consult child-protection groups and victims, his belief that drama alone can hope to reveal the truth of the man is only relevant if the play and the playwright are up to the task.
Which is where this flat and droning edifice of research and anecdote falls apart. Structured around a ‘This Is Your Life’-style tribute TV show, ‘An Audience…’ sees the paedophile blustering through records of his charitable achievements and fending off accusations and investigations with his now-familiar tactic of patter and threats. Real accounts from victims are stitched together in the underwritten composite character of accuser Lucy, as facts are blended with fiction in a way that feels at best unhelpful and at worst profoundly inappropriate and disrespectful.
Alistair McGowan performs a skin-crawling impression of Savile, nailing every movement, every shyster routine and well-rehearsed deflection, but apart from a few bouts of gangland rage, the mask never slips. This terrible emotional fortress of a man is never breached, despite an unlikely spot of narrative wish-fulfilment in the closing moments. Still, in a production from Brendan O’Hea that’s the essence of functional, and a supporting cast who struggle to make much of any of their various characters, it’s down to McGowan to hold the attention, and his powers as a mimic are put to sickly entrancing work here.
In another stop-off on his recent junket, Maitland commented that the real issue with this story is not that it’s too soon to tell it, but rather too late. Too late for the victims to see anything but a pantomime justice. Too late for those rumours to be hounded out by bold reporting. At the end of this tawdry 80 minutes you can’t help feeling that whether or not this story could do with a better playwright now, what it really needed was better journalists then.