An Audience with Jimmy Savile is possibly one of the most shocking plays currently showing in London. Steeped in horrifying truths, scandalous admissions and cruel honesty this is a ground-breaking piece of present-day and distressing issues.
It is the height of Savile’s popularity and power, and when the lights go up we are hit immediately with dancing lights and the classic music of a chat show theme tune. The host Michael Sterling (played by Graham Seed) introduces the “hero” and “national treasure” Jimmy Savile as we the audience shrivel in our seats at what were true opinions some twenty years ago. We watch, in hindsight, how an eccentric and oddly charismatic man used his influence and supremacy to mask and throw off continuous allegations of sexual abuse. The story centres on a fictional character Lucy (Leah Whitaker) whose own story stems from the numerous real witness accounts and testimonies that have come to light over the recent years. Painstakingly, we listen to her recall the abuse that she has endured in the form of police questioning, and watch as powerless and frightened police and journalists try and fail to bring these allegations to the public’s knowledge.
Nothing is overdone; Jonathan Maitland has coined this piece with such delicate diplomacy, as you would expect from an experienced media journalist, that anyone would struggle to take offence from this work. However the plot, so raw in its origins and so shocking in its subject matter, left me wondering why I was submitting myself to watch such a play. I suppose the answer comes from the same reason that Maitland wanted to write such a play: it is our human need to know more. It seems that what Maitland really wants to uncover is how he got away with it, and unfortunately this play explains – without excusing – exactly why that was. When it finished, I sat for what must have been ten minutes trying to comprehend the impact of what I had just seen.
Alistair McGowan, well-known impressionist, actor and presenter, plays Savile. His dress, look, mannerisms, expressions and ticks all appallingly resemble that of the well-known demon who has been excluded from our TV screens for so long that the effect is more than disquieting. A visible shiver went through the audience as we watched the white-haired man in the tracksuit confidently answer publicity questions, as though in his element, thriving. I must give credit to McGowan’s bravery at publicly taking on such a heinous and reviled public figure, and doing it so aptly.
This is a play that simply shows you things that happened. It depicts, rather than focuses on, the mind and feelings of its protagonist and I respect all those involved. A courageous and radical piece of theatre.
An Audience with Jimmy Savile is playing the Park Theatre until 11 July. For more information and tickets, see the Park Theatre website. Photo by Helen Maybanks.