Chris Woodley has openly described his new play as a ‘foul-mouthed farce’, and few will dare to dispute him. Steeped in cringey jokes and queer cliches, Tommy on Top pokes fun at the absurdity of Hollywood and its obsession with hypermasculinity.
The plot centres on the life and acting career of Hollywood heartthrob Tommy Miller (Alex Hulme), who, as a closeted gay man, is grappling with keeping his sexuality a secret in order to sustain his illustrious existence. This, of course, is not sustainable, and the audience needs no more evidence than the fact that the action never leaves Tommy’s LA hotel room to see that he is trapped in a world where he cannot truly be himself. David Shields’s effortless design draws you in to this static scene, leaving you laughing helplessly as the farcical chaos unfolds.
Woodley’s script is filled with wit but comes across as somewhat flat on occasions and is all-too reliant on the audience having had a few drinks before the show. The initial moments between Tommy and his boyfriend George (Lucas Livesey), in particular, read as more unconvincing and awkward rather than passionate and heart-warming. Tommy’s drunken sister Molly, played by Megan Armstrong, brings some much-needed energy and humour to the show. Granted, George has some excellent one-liners, but Molly’s dynamic presence is unmatched and, ultimately, the show would be lost without her. Chris Lane also delivers a delightfully overdramatic and crude performance as Eddie, and executes some hilarious physical sequences which are expertly choreographed and wonderfully silly. Bridgette Amofah and Becky Sanneh promise much as Judy and Kiki, but there is a noticeable imbalance between the theatricality of the performers. I want much more in places, and much less in others.
Although Tommy’s character lacks considerable depth and is a bit of a disappointing watch, perhaps he should be viewed as more of a figure of the tragic closeted Hollywood icon; a ‘poster boy’ if you will. Which, despite the irony, continues to mock the façade of our media-centric world and its obsession with keeping queerness out of the mainstream. This political undertone comes to a head during Tommy’s Oscar acceptance speech, where he finally comes out as a gay man. Alex Hulme delivers this monologue with surprising integrity and emotional complexity; part of me wishes that we were allowed to see more of this in the rest of the show.
Ultimately, Tommy on Top delivers as a fun way to extend your night-out in Vauxhall’s flagship LGBT+ bar and theatre. Expect plenty of sex toys, dramatic balcony throws and jokes that go a bit ‘too far’. Will it inspire more queer Oscar-wins? I’m not totally convinced.
Tommy on Top is on at Above the Stag Theatre until 29 August. For more information and tickets see Above the Stag’s website.