You've probably heard the story: an impostor pretending to be Sidney Poitier's (non-existent) son conned his way into the Park Avenue apartments of New York's social elite – the saga inspired John Guare – the conman is now suing Guare for unauthorised use of his life. But this magnificent play is no more "about" David Hampton than War And Peace is "about" Napoleon's Russian campaign. Guare weaves a riveting tapestry of credulity and the need to believe, and (by making the more gilded protagonists art dealers) of the worth attached to certain names and the tangled undergrowth of fakery.
Long-time Guare associate Stockard Channing gives a superb study in being stripped of certainties: from early lines of portentousness magnificently deflated by a complacent haut-bourgeois veneer of self-deprecation, via standard outrage when the imposture is discovered, to the haunted bewilderment of the final scenes, her performance is remarkable. She is well complemented by Paul Shelley as her husband, a smooth hustler of Cézannes, and in particular by Adrian Lester's "Paul Poitier": every bit as open, generous and winning as such a character would have to be.
Over-use has devalued the word "clarity" in theatre reviews, but Phyllida Lloyd's deft, concise direction and Mark Thompson's simple, harmonious geometric set embody what should be meant by it. This terrific production could have its pick of beleaguered West End venues for transfer, and rightly so.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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