Any play which is heralded as containing "strong language, some nudity and intimate personal depilation" has got to be worth a look, hasn't it? Er, not especially, now you come to mention it. Perhaps more indicative of what lay in store was the sight of a couple of poems by Rilke in the programme.
Andrew Alty's play has taken two years to graduate from a rehearsed reading upstairs at the Royal Court to a full production, perhaps because it just isn't that riveting. In the first act, best friends Michael and Peter – "sisters", but not lovers – are waiting in an airport departure lounge for their holiday flight to Spain. Peter has full-blown AIDS, but is on the top of his form. So volubly so, in fact, that even if he didn't keep seeing dead figures from his past in the lounge, we would instinctively know that he wouldn't be making a re-appearance after the interval.
It's up to Michael, then, to provide the continuity in Act Two as rough-trade Dean (Gregory Donaldson), complete with Doc Marten boots and camouflage strides, forces him to loosen up both physically and psychologically. This is evidently achieved by dint of a half-tab of acid, a sexual initiation and, not to put too fine a point on it, shaving his arse, aerosol foam and all. But frankly, Michael just isn't interesting. His reserved character generates the occasional laugh, but as a protagonist he's a wash-out. This is a "first halting step towards self-acceptance" play which would be dismissed out of hand if it concerned a straight middle-aged denizen of NW3, and rightly so. Poor Simon Beresford is given no material to attract audience sympathy.
James Kennedy's Peter is a more enticing proposition, shown off to best advantage in the episodes of small-talk and teasing. Alty writes these sequences fluidly, but cannot make the transition to set-piece reflectiveness without crashing gears. And is it meant to be significant that the increasingly eccentric airport tannoy announcements are recognisably in Kennedy's anglicised Ulster burr, or is it simply due to budgetary constraints? Philip Howard's journeyman direction gives no hints.
Peter's suffering does not ennoble him, much less does Michael's strait-laced timidity provide any dramatic magnetism. Alty can plainly write, but callous as it may seem to ask, why should we care about this undistinguished personal journey?
Written for the London Evening Standard.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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