The Pride – Review
Theatre Royal Brighton
14th – 18th January – 7.45pm
16th & 18th January – 2.30pm
Tickets £11.90 – £37.90 + b.f
This is the second incarnation of Alexi Kaye Campbell’s critically acclaimed play The Pride, which visits Brighton as part of a national tour following its award-winning run in the West End. It is the only play that director Jamie Lloyd has ever revisited, explaining that he was enticed to do so by its topicality in light of the equal marriage bill in the UK and the unnerving increase in the persecution of gay people in Russia. For changing attitudes to homosexuality are at the heart of The Pride, a love story set across 50 years, following the same three people as they live and love in 1958 and 2014.
Against a backdrop of fifties repression, Sylvia is coming to terms with her husband Philip’s latent homosexuality as he battles to suppress his feelings for Oliver, a mutual friend who longs for a future free from bigotry. Half a century later the two men are free to conduct their relationship openly but struggle to keep it on track nonetheless.
Surprisingly, the true meaning of the play’s title is evident not in the ‘out and proud’, rainbow flag-waving of the present day, but in the quiet dignity expressed by Oliver half a century earlier, even in the face of oppression.
The Pride packs a genuine emotional punch, at times boldly funny and at others intensely upsetting. In particular, Harry Hadden-Paton delivers a moment of unexpected brutality as Philip; the discomfort amongst the audience is palpable.
The action takes place against a stark set design by Soutra Gilmour (winner of the 2012 Evening Standard award for Best Design), which consists of a huge tarnished mirror, foggily reflecting the characters in the present day and occasionally acting as a shadowy window into the past.
It is a testament to the skills of the three primary cast members that every one of them so convincingly portrays their 1950s character alongside his or her modern-day counterpart. Often, they must make the switch in a matter of seconds, giving renewed meaning to the idea of the ‘quick change’.
Naomi Sheldon (in the role of Sylvia, played previously by Hayley Atwell) is infinitely likeable and totally believable both as Philip’s wife and Oliver’s confidant, responding to his demands for support regardless of its detrimental effect on her own love-life. We are left wondering just how Oliver became so needy. Indeed, It is the two Olivers, played perfectly by Al Weaver, who are perhaps the furthest removed from each other. In the fifties he seems heroic, delivering a galvanising speech about his right to love, but in the sexually liberated climate of today he is a self-absorbed sap with a penchant for sex with strangers that threatens to derail his relationship.
Mathew Horne (of Gavin and Stacey fame) is outrageously good in a handful of cameo roles and proves his versatility by transforming himself over and over. He earns roars of laughter when he first appears as a Nazi-imitating dominatrix and later as a lad’s mag editor, peddling ‘gay sex for the straight man’. Finally, he is the matter-of-fact doctor at a clinic offering Philip the chance to ‘cure’ himself of his homosexuality, a scene that is nauseatingly horrible. Because of course the real horror here derives from the fact that these things did happen, and continue to happen all over the world today.
At the curtain call the cast wielded placards dedicating the production ‘To Russia with love’, proving that theatre can be political and that this production is important. And this is why The Pride is so successful, because it humanises the injustices of the past, celebrates the progress that has been made in the name of gay rights, and provides a poignant reminder of how far we have left to go: liberal, yes; liberated, not yet.
Tickets available at http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-pride/theatre-royal-brighton/
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