Matthew Baldwin enters and immediately makes contact with us all. The first song ‘Fanny Boy’ is delivered well and is very humorous at times. This sets the tone of the piece. Baldwin is hugged by the square of light. It looks beautiful.
Baldwin breaks the song and, like a flick of a switch, starts to deliver the facts and statements from The Sexual Offences Act of 1967 – the decriminalisation of homosexuality. The material is delivered with a lightness of touch which makes anything provoking or shocking seem more like a treat for us. The prejudice and judgement that blighted the lives of gay men at that time (“Deviation from the norm, like colour-blindness) becomes very clear to the audience. Neither the writing itself nor the direction (Thomas Hescott) ask for sympathy, however. They simply ask for contact.
Baldwin jumps frequently between the facts, and his more real and exposed character. He sits on the toilet, telling us of the first time he fell in love. He tells us about Peter. He explains that he had room in his adolescent heart that he didn’t even realise was there. His characterisation has exquisite vulnerability and a confidence in who he is and all he has achieved. He manages to capture the bare-faced honesty that love forces us to accept, as well as conveying its complications.
Baldwin transforms into Edna May, who is a glorious character. With her cigarette in the air, her sassy one-liners make us roar with laughter. This marks another opportunity to commend all involved for the beautiful depiction of a character who is actually pretty desperate, although on the surface has command of the entire space.
Not only does Baldwin create characters of intricacy and clarity with and without song throughout the piece, he also manages to make contact with others onstage who are not actually. The moments with James are wonderful; they seem to be discovered there and then.
The characters are woven together for us and we realise that one has been talking about another, and so forth. The songs punctuate the beginning, middle and end, providing a pleasing balance. The music adds drama and lifts the work to another level, though I would have been happy enough with just Baldwin’s creation of characters all night long.
I imagine everyone who has ever had room in their adolescent and, perhaps, more vulnerable adult heart, will enjoy such a brilliantly delivered piece.
The Act is playing at Oval House until 2 Feb. For more information visit www.ovalhouse.com