The Pride

Eternity Playhouse, February 9

Matt Minto, Geraldine Hakewill, Simon London (c) Helen White

Matt Minto, Geraldine Hakewill and Simon London. Photo: Helen White

Terrible repression in Britain in the 1950s when homosexuality was still a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison leading many men to live a life of denial, secrets and guilt; hard won sexual liberation in the present that makes relationships between gay men infinitely easier but not necessarily without complications.

Alexi Kaye Campbell’s award-winning play The Pride, which premiered at London’s Royal Court Theatre in 2008, moves between the two eras to explore the huge shift in attitudes to homosexuality over the last 50 years.

Set in London, the play opens in 1958 with a scene that could come straight out of a drawing room comedy where so much is unspoken or merely hinted at, with shades of Terence Rattigan or Noel Coward (drinks trolley and all).

Sylvia (Geraldine Hakewill), a former actress, has invited children’s author Oliver (Matt Minto) whose book she is illustrating to meet her strait-laced real estate husband Phillip (Simon London). Over drinks before the three of them go out for dinner, the conversation is polite and stilted with tension crackling beneath the surface. Sylvia cajoles an embarrassed Oliver into telling an epiphany he had in Greece that suggests he is gay. Philip meanwhile seems struggling with an attraction to him.

The play then jumps to the present with Oliver entertaining a costumed rent-boy. The names of the three central characters are the same but they are completely different people. Oliver is a freelance journalist with an addiction to anonymous sex, which his partner Phillip can no longer cope with. Miserable at losing him, Oliver constantly turns to his loyal best friend Sylvia for comfort.

Moving back and forth between the two timeframes, The Pride is a very well written and constructed drama in which Kaye Campbell balances the tortuous angst, guilt and dark, intense elements of the play with wit and humour.

Occasionally, it feels a little over-written: for example, a present day scene between Oliver and the editor of a lad’s mag who wants an article about gay sex that will appeal to straight men feels too long, if not unnecessary. And the 1950s scenes are more powerful than the present day ones but overall it’s a provocative, brave, compassionate play.

Directing it for Darlinghurst Theatre Company, as part of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival, Shane Bosher helms a riveting production on Lucilla Smith’s stark set with grey back wall, onto which the cast carry minimal furniture and props in quick flowing scene changes.

Bosher directs with sensitivity, finding both the humour and the deep, intense pain inherent in the piece. He stages one particularly brutal moment with a frank authenticity but without it feeling salacious. Above all, he draws excellent performances from a fine cast.

Geraldine Hakewill, Matt Minto (c) Helen White

Geraldine Hakewill and Matt Minto. Photo: Helen White

London and Minto are exceptional. Both of them create two characters across the eras that are so totally different (their physicality, accents, vocal rhythms and mannerisms) they could almost be different actors – supported by Lisa Mimmocchi’s excellent costuming.

London is so stitched up and humourless as the 1950s Phillip it’s as if he has every muscle in his body clenched, while his present day character has a physical ease about him. Minto’s 1950s Oliver is fumbling, awkward, embarrassed and clearly lonely yet witty and endearing, while his modern persona is louche, funny and confident in his own skin.

Hakewill is also terrific as the rather delicate, sensitive Sylvia married to Phillip, who intuitively knows what is going on, and as the sassy, open-minded contemporary Sylvia.

Kayle Kazmarzik lends strong support as the rent-boy (showing a sure comic timing), magazine editor and a doctor to whom the 1950s guilt-ridden Phillip turns to.

The Pride asks tough questions about gay life today as well as in the past, questions about fidelity, promiscuity, the pursuit of happiness, and being true both to yourself and others. Recommended.

The Pride plays at the Eternity Playhouse until March 6. Bookings: www.darlinghursttheatre.com or 02 8356 9987

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Tartuffe

Drama Theatre, July 30

Kate Mulvany, Genevieve Hakewill, Charlie Garber, Sean O'Shea, Helen Dallimore, Jennifer Hagan and Robert Jago. Photo: Lisa Tomasetti

Kate Mulvany, Geraldine Hakewill, Charlie Garber, Sean O’Shea, Helen Dallimore, Jennifer Hagan and Robert Jago. Photo: Lisa Tomasetti

Right from the get-go, Justine Fleming’s contemporary adaptation of Molière’s Tartuffe has the audience chortling in this new Bell Shakespeare production.

As with his adaptation for Bell’s 2012 production of Molière’s The School for Wives, Fleming combines colourful, irreverent colloquialism with rhyming couplets. Phrases such as “bunch of losers”, “shut your gob” and “a piddle short of a piss” had the delighted audience in stitches.

At the same time, it’s an extremely clever adaptation that faithfully captures the spirit of Molière’s satire about religious hypocrisy and gullibility and tells the story with great élan and clarity. Locating it in the present day, the themes certainly feel as relevant as ever.

Rich, successful and married to a gorgeous, younger second wife Elmire (Helen Dallimore), Orgon (Sean O’Shea) is looking for spiritual meaning in his life. Sensing that he’s ripe for the picking, the devious, duplicitous Tartuffe (Leon Ford) schemes to take him to the cleaners. Tartuffe also has his eye on Elmire, while Orgon wants him to marry his daughter Mariane (Geraldine Hakewill). No matter that she is already promised to Valère (Tom Hobbs).

Orgon and his mother (Jennifer Hagan) may be taken in, but the rest of the family see straight through Tartuffe’s fraud and plot to trick him into revealing his true nature.

Peter Evans directs a rollicking, extremely funny production on a set by Anna Cordingley with oversized furniture that not only matches the excess of all that unfolds but also suggests the childishness of their behaviour. Besides a massive sofa, there’s an off-kilter grandfather clock and a giant closet with an ever-changing interior. In the second act a sign descends inviting you, in Facebook fashion, to “accept” or “ignore” a request to  befriend Jesus.

Cordingley’s colourful costumes are also amusing, wittily combining styles and eras, while Kelly Ryall’s jaunty, synthesised versions of baroque music work a treat.

In the original 1664 comedy, tragedy is averted at the last minute with an intervention from the King. Here, Fleming puts his own twist on the ending with Poetic Justice saving the day, while tipping a nod to Molière being the French Shakespeare.

The cast all bring an enormous vigour to the roles. Kate Mulvany is a knockout as the outspoken, sassy, exasperated maid Dorine. Tottering around on vertiginous heels, her effortless command of the language and comedy is deliciously spot-on.

Ford is smoothly, smarmily sanctimonious as Tartuffe one minute, then breaks out with hilarious abandon when he thinks no one is watching. His pelvic thrusting move across the stage to Elmire is hilarious while his amorous advance on her, using her fishnets and high heels, is one of the funniest things I’ve seen on stage in ages.

Leon Ford and Helen Dallimore. Photo: Lisa  Tomasetti

Leon Ford and Helen Dallimore. Photo: Lisa Tomasetti

O’Shea is also very funny as the well-meaning but bullish, deluded Orgon. I’m not sure that in this day and age Mariane needed to be quite such a ditzy bimbo but Hakewill plays it to the hilt. The lovers’ tiff between her and Valère is a hoot, while Hobbs has fun and games breaking the fourth wall.

In fact, there are terrific performances all round from Charlie Garber as Orgon’s hot-headed son Damis, Robert Jago as Orgon’s level-headed, clear-sighted brother-in-law Cléante, Hagan as the haughty, disapproving Madame Pernelle, Russell Smith as Monsieur Loyal and Scott Witt as the bumbling servant (among other roles).

All in all, the production is a delight, full of inspired comic touches from the funny little bounce as various characters flop onto the sofa to Dorine stashing a half-smoked cigarette in her bra. Too much fun. Highly recommended.

Tartuffe is at the Drama Theatre until August 23. Bookings: www.sydneyoperahouse.com or 02 9250 7777

A version of this review ran in the Sunday Telegraph on August 3