Following on from its massively successful run as part of the Trafalgar Studio’s Trafalgar Transformed season in 2013, Jamie Lloyd’s The Pride is embarking on a mini-tour of the UK. With much media coverage of human rights violations occurring in Russia (and elsewhere) ahead of the Winter Olympics next month, this production of The Pride is a carefully constructed revival that is both topical, contemporary and brilliantly written.
The play fluctuates between ’50s London, when homosexuality was deemed illegal, and its 2008 equal – where its characters celebrate gay pride. In their respectable, ’50s family home in Pimlico, husband Phillip and his wife Sylvia invite her colleague Oliver round for dinner. Whilst Oliver speaks of an epiphany, it becomes apparent that Phillip is struggling with his attraction to Oliver; later on in the play he takes drastic action in admitting himself to a clinic to try and ‘cure’ his feelings. In their contemporary counterparts’ world, homosexuality is much easier to speak of. Openly gay and proud, (and sharing the same names) Phillip and Oliver negotiate their way through a relationship that is fraught with affairs, role-playing and quite obviously, love.
Writer Alexi Kaye Campbell’s play was originally performed at the Royal Court in 2008, but its themes and ideas surrounding changing attitudes to sexuality and searching for the courage to be yourself is still profound today. Its educative writing suggests that everyone can live the life they want – and that one should not repress one’s identity or sexuality. Its scene changes between the two time periods highlights the battle already overcome, and also the imperfect present that is still being fought: is character Oliver really any happier in his oppressed skin than in his liberated, flippant one?
It is a script that is also very funny, mostly in the form of Mathew Horne’s (Gavin and Stacey, Bad Education) characters, which include a role-playing Nazi prostitute. The other three actors also grace the Richmond stage with perfect performances throughout the evening; Al Weaver as Oliver, giving a fast paced exuberance but honesty throughout his two equal characters, and matched by Harry Hadden-Paton’s controlled yet ferocious Phillip. As the only female of the company, Naomi Sheldon does well to stand her ground but shines particularly during her turn as hurt wife Sylvia, having discovered her husband’s passionate love affair with her colleague.
The set (designed by Soutra Gilmour) is simplistic but effective. A large, battered old mirror reflects the action and Campbell’s characters right back onto its audience – the representation of society and a cosmic link between the two time periods.
Whilst taking their curtain calls, the cast brandish signs saying ‘To Russia with Love’ – a movement that provoked some serious affection from its audience – and which give this brilliantly-written play a real sense of purpose. Brilliant direction, acting and writing make this one of the most affecting plays I’ve ever seen and if all theatre is as good as this in 2014, I’m going to have a seriously incredible year.
The Pride is playing The Richmond Theatre until 1 February, before embarking on a UK Tour. For more information and tickets see the Pride website.