The Pride @ Royal Court, London

cast list
Bertie Carvel, JJ Feild, Lyndsey Marshal, Tim Steed

directed by
Jamie Lloyd
While Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Wig Out! pounds and prances in the Downstairs Theatre, the Royal Court’s upstairs space has been given over to a more subtle play about gay lives.

Alexi Kaye Campbell’s impressive debut is split across two time periods.

The same set of actors depicts characters with the same names living in both 1958 and 2008.

While the former period is repressive and difficult, pinning people into boxes that did not fit them, the supposedly liberated noughties have their own set of problems and barriers.
In the 1950s, Philip is a buttoned-up estate agent married to Sylvia, an illustrator who has been working with Bertie Carvel’s nervy, soft-voiced Oliver, a writer of children’s books. The first time the three meet it’s a frothy occasion, they banter pleasantly in the clipped English fashion of a drawing room comedy. But underneath the veneer of jollity something darker lurks, as evidenced by Oliver’s speech about a revelation he had while visiting Delphi in Greece that one day there would be a deeper understanding of certain aspects of our natures that would make all the fears we now hold on to and the sleepless nights we have almost worthwhile. Though Philip later tells his wife that he finds something in Oliver’s manner repellent, the men are attracted to each other and begin to meet in private.

In the contemporary scenes, there is still much loneliness and upset. The modern Oliver is a lifestyle journalist working for the Daily Mail, whose relationship with Philip has fallen apart due to Oliver’s taste for anonymous, debasing sexual encounters. Distraught, he turns to his close friend Sylvia, clinging to her to the point where he is starting to interfere with her burgeoning relationship with her boyfriend, Mario.

Jamie Lloyd’s production slides back and forwards between both times effortlessly, the two periods bleeding into each other with increasing frequency as the play progresses, the actors switching nimbly between roles. There are some excellent performances here. Bertie Carvel (who excelled in a similarly complex and potentially unlikeable role in Jason Robert Brown’s Parade) is utterly compelling as the needy, desperate Oliver, sympathetic and pathetic in equal measure.

Lyndsey Marshal is also quite superb as the woman caught between two men in both times. JJ Feild, as the 1950s Philip provides a strong sense of a man, who though calm and collected on the surface, has been hollowed out by his inability to be the man he feels he should be. Tim Steed provides light relief in the first half as a rent boy catering to ‘specialist’ tastes and returns in the second half to play a lad mag editor whose blokey spiel about the gay thing takes an unexpected turn.

Refreshingly for a play on gay themes, women aren’t invisible. Campbell makes it clear that the damage done to Sylvia by Philip’s relationship with Oliver is as potent and real as the emotional fall out between the two men. In the modern day scenes, the play acknowledges the strength and complexity of the friendship between the gay man and the straight woman without resorting to demeaning fag hag stereotyping.

The Pride is a bit too wordy, at times getting bogged down in long descriptions of dreams, but it is a powerful and promising piece of writing. In the final scene that plays out during Gay Pride, there is a sweet, brief moment where the characters spot a 95 year old man and gently, casually make fun of him, giving little thought to the journey he must have gone on in his life in order to go to Pride and be proud.

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