This arguably ‘classic’ play tells the tale of a gay group of friends gathering for a birthday party. When host Michael (played irritatingly by Ian Hallard) feels obliged to invite his arguably homophobic old friend, Alan, round for the evening, it brings into sharp focus how each of the men really feels about their own sexuality.
The themes of the play are interesting but, for me, it’s all a little too much. The play is neither caricatured and farcical, nor is it serious either. Some of the characters (notably Hallard’s Michael, Alan played by John Hopkins and obviously the ludicrously camp James Holmes as Emory) are far too full-on and overdramatic, which for me totally cuts through any tension at all and makes the whole thing seem a bit silly. This is contrasted by the simply beautiful acting of Ben Mansfield and Nathan Nolan as Larry and Hank, respectively. The pair have a lovely connection on stage and their story brought a tear to my eye – their naturalistic way of representing their characters and difficulties struck a chord with me. This style of acting seems out of place, but for all the right reasons. The tones of naturalism are ruined by huge scenes of screaming, shouting and writhing on the floor which leaves me feeling nothing but the urge to eye roll. Odd directing from Adam Penford, and for me this doesn’t quite work.
The play in itself has such potential to be funny, poignant and touching – and at times it’s certainly all three. It’s just not consistent enough to make an audience feel at ease. Perhaps that was the point?
Mark Gatiss as Harold has an almost unbelievably small role, appearing for one laugh in Act One and then again for really nothing more than a few bitchy one-liners in Act Two. His character is integral to the play, however, and Gatiss manages to make his role stand out with gravitas. It’s a shame he’s not in the play more. Similarly, Daniel Boys (playing Donald) has a large part to play in Act One that seems to dwindle to nothing in Act Two. I expected his story to go somewhere, having spent such a lot of time invested in hearing his story and opinions throughout the first act. It’s touches like this that have the potential to confuse the audience.
The set is certainly effective and the music is well chosen and works brilliantly. The backstage work is superb from everything to props to costumes, too. It’s certainly a very professional play with some fine actors, but there’s nothing to make a solid three star play stand out.