SPLENDID'S
Lyric Hammersmith, London W6
Opened 15 June, 1995

Neil Bartlett's devotion to the concept of the "night out", in the comprehensive sense of flamboyant gay entertainment, is well to the fore once again in his British première production of Jean Genet's rediscovered 1948 gangster play. The tale of seven hoods and a turncoat cop holed up in a deserted hotel under siege is frankly minor Genet: the blend of the author's perennial concerns of power play, role play and illusion with a pseudo-film noir treatment is by turns intriguing, bewildering and ludicrous, the last not always by intention.

Julian Clary's legitimate theatre début as Bravo, an effete mobster who turns out to have a firmer handle on the realities of the situation than his comrades, is a huge disappointment. Clary is in theory well cast, but either through nerves or simple inability never rises to the part, delivering every line in his characteristic passionless low-key drawl. He is comprehensively outcamped not only by David Foxxe in the evening's strongest performance as Bob, a rotund, be-pearled queen bitch, but even by the radio: Gary Indiana's reports on the siege sound less like Kate Adie than Truman Capote, and the campy intonation he gives to the phrase "...police officers armed with grenades" drew splutters from the press night audience.

The scene which probably inspired the play around it comes at the end of the first act. Having killed their female hostage, the gang postpone the cops' final attack by dressing one of their number in her gown and parading him on the balcony. The part of Jean, the edgy would-be boss bullied into the frock, is played by Everett Quinton, whose career with New York's Ridiculous Theatre Company rests on his travesty skills; it gives him a fine opportunity both to utilise those abilities and to play against them in a role which is anything but florid.

Like Reservoir Dogs, the action begins after things have gone horribly wrong; unlike Tarantino's movie there are no flashbacks to the job itself. We follow the evening-suited gang in real time through the realisation that their number is up, and they can either continue in enslavement to their media-supplied name, the "Blaze of Glory Boys", or cock one last snook at the world outside by going against the grain and surrendering pathetically. In the end even that decision is taken away from them.

Bartlett's adaptation and production on a darkened hotel-corridor stage strewn with débris catch the atmosphere of aftermath and fatalism but, like the play, fail to rivet. It is an evening of reverence rather than engagement.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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