I ♥ Peterborough doesn’t let its audience off the hook. Staged with intimate directness on a claustrophobic, cramped corner of a living room, this play spills out of its space, confronting and arresting the audience with lyrical harshness.
Beautifully conceived, I ♥ Peterborough is a play well worth seeing. Examining sexuality, parenthood and lives left by the wayside, Peterborough is a kind of eulogy to unrequited love. A close-knit two-hander in which father-son duo Michael (Milo Twomey) and Hew (Jay Taylor) tell their uncomfortable and unsatisfied joint life-story, jostling each other for space. Sometimes, hilariously, the actors play other characters and buoy the story along, at times haltingly revealing difficult or unwanted moments of truth. By turns camp, fabulous, uncomfortable, gut wrenchingly awkward and finally, deeply sad, a great deal is packed into these 70 minutes. Writer/ director Joel Horwood (well known already for East Anglian piece I Caught Crabs in Walberswick) has created a masterful play with real form.
The play looks at what it is like to grow up as a gay man in Peterborough and the cabaret style feels right. Michael/Lulu is conceived as a born raconteur but an endearingly terrible singer, so his son, Hew, is the musical brains of the operation. Some of the simplest and most beautiful moments of the evening are Taylor’s cover songs. In particular, at the climax of the show, his version of ‘Running up that hill’ (Kate Bush) is almost spine-tingling.
Both Twomey and Taylor gave excellent performances – they are very well cast. Taylor’s grimacing awkwardness balances Twomey’s easy outrageousness and lyricism; together, both as father and son and as cabaret double act, they are strikingly apposite.
I ♥ Peterborough‘s witty and lyrical script has a way of tackling, elliptically, some moments of real darkness. I loved the two characters: they were weird, endearing, and a kind of magnification of the awkwardness and unusualness and fabulousness in us all. However, Horwood’s direction of his piece is not quite up to the high standard set by all other aspects. While it is by no means bad and doesn’t stymie the show, it lacks focus and visual clarity. There were moments when the eye was lost, even if the mind was engaged. It would be interesting to see what would happen to I ♥ Peterborough in the hands of another director. This said, it is an evening of theatre that is difficult to criticise.
This play is an experience. It gave me everything I relish and expect from a good piece of theatre: I laughed, I cried, I was consistently surprised. It’s not perfect, but it is fascinating, excruciating and outrageous. This is a love story in many forms: lovers, friends, first loves, last loves, but most beautifully, here, of the friendship between an unlikely father and son. If you’ve ever felt like an outsider, go and see it.
I ♥ Peterborough runs 9 – 13 & 15 – 20 October at 7.15pm, and Saturday 20 October at 3.30pm at the Soho Upstairs. For more information and tickets please visit the Soho Theatre website.