Heathcote William's darkly sinister play is revived to mark its 50th anniversary
In honour of the fiftieth anniversary of this one-act play by the writer, actor and political firebrand Heathcote Williams, director Michael Toumey has blown the dust off a piece of theatre largely ignored since 1990, when Al Pacino starred in a teleplay version (you can find the whole thing on YouTube; worth a watch, if only for Al’s attempts at a London accent).
The protagonists of ‘The Local Stigmatic’ are working-class lads-about-town Graham (Wilson James) and Ray (William Frazer). Graham rants about his bad luck at the dog tracks with a feral, spittle-flecked rage; Ray drops sarcastic comments between his mate’s tirades. In a West End pub, they catch sight of plummy D-list actor David (Tom Sawyer). It turns out the boy are fans of his – like, MASSIVE fans – but their sycophantic chat soon turns into something far more disturbing. These aren’t Angry Young Men: they’re Insane Young Men.
‘The Local Stigmatic’ feels half-trapped in its Sixties milieu: okay, class tensions haven’t gone anywhere, but they’ve evolved somewhat. But its examination of the dark side of our fascination with celebrity is no less relevant. What’s interesting is how the boys say they ‘follow’ David – they might mean via the gossip columns of the tabloids rather than Instagram, but it has exactly the same stalkerish meaning. And if their dated slang is hard to decipher, it makes it all the more disturbing – like the droog patois in ‘A Clockwork Orange’.
But this frenzied play suffers from a lack of dramatic rhythm. David’s character is introduced far too late, and without the requisite build-up, the gut-churning end scenes miss their mark. In fairness to all those in this production, these faults lie with Williams, who was just 22 when he wrote the play. So ‘The Local Stigmatic’ survives and succeeds as a raw and compelling oddity, rather than finessed theatre.