How many of us can look back at a specific night in our lives and recognise that it has changed who we are forever? Bill Rosenfield can, and 46 Beacon is a semi-autobiographical account of a pivotal July evening in 1970 in a hotel room in Beacon Street, Boston. After a run at The Hope Theatre in Islington, 46 Beacon is a coming-of-age story making its West End debut at Trafalgar Studios.
Directed by Alexander Lass, the two-hander takes us through a night with Robert (Jay Taylor) and Alan (Oliver Coopersmith). Robert, an older and charming British actor working in the States befriends and seduces Alan, a curious and unassuming High School student working in the theatre Robert is performing in. As the night unfolds and many gin and tonics are consumed, adorably described by Alan as ‘like a bitter 7-up’, the pair reluctantly confide in one another and air truths and struggles they hadn’t before admitted, providing an insight into what it was to be gay in the 1970’s.
After a stiff beginning and a few starchy exchanges between the pair, the chemistry kicks in and the dialogue becomes more fluid and natural. As they circle each other, sizing each other up, the sexual tension feels palpable and it’s almost a relief when they finally give in to their desires. From this point onwards, they are free to explore one another’s mind, not just body, and begin to learn from each other.
Taylor as Robert is liberal, stylish and irresistibly British in his wine-coloured velour tracksuit, with a sort of John Stamos smile and the voice, vocabulary and dry humour of Hugh Grant in a Richard Curtis film. He gently introduces Alan to a world he has so far been denying, and in turn is coaxed by Alan to confront his own issues that he has been avoiding. Coopersmith as Alan is preppy and sweet, and although obviously inexperienced, he isn’t naïve. He asks questions and pushes Robert, but at the same time he listens, and Coopersmith gives him just the right balance of confidence and caution.
Knowing that 46 Beacon is semi-autobiographical, it feels almost cathartic. With the knowledge that Rosenfield has let us in on such a memorable moment in his life, the play is given an authentic, sentimental tone. The small and enclosed space of Trafalgar Studios 2 lends itself perfectly to the piece, as its cosiness creates an intimate atmosphere and aids connection with the characters. 46 Beacon is tender and heart-filled, and no matter who you love, you’ll leave with the feeling you’ve gained something.
46 Beacon is playing at the Trafalgar Studios until April 29.
Photo: Pete Le May