Jimmy Saville was one of Great Britains most well loved and honoured TV personalities. Hosting the BBC Music show Top of the Pops and his smash hit TV show Jim’ll Fix It, where children’s dreams were made realities live on air. Jimmy raised over £40 million for charity over the years and was seen as one of the most respectable men in the world. But after his death in 2011, hundreds of police reports surfaced from women claiming they had been sexually abused by him as children. But why did they wait until he was dead to make these claims? Or did they speak out before then but were silenced by Jimmy and the power he held as a celebrity?
The story focuses around Lucy (a factual amalgamation of several victims), who at twelve years old was raped by Jimmy Saville in the TV room of Stoke Mandeville hospital. Not knowing what was happening to her she didn’t fight but when she realised what had happened was wrong she tried to speak out but no one believed her. People don’t want to believe these kind of things about famous people. We want to keep believing that they are wonderful because if we believe they are not, what hope is there left for us ‘normal folk’? Complaints of this nature were brushed off as ‘Just Jimmy being Jimmy’. This story is spliced with a BBC television recording of This Is Your Life, where Jimmy was interviewed and and the audience are introduced to many of the people that believe ‘Saint Jimmy’ could have done no wrong. It shows the dichotomies of how Jimmy Saville lived and was perceived.
Jimmy was a man invincible because he did so much good. If a nurse would see him doing something inappropriate to a child, they would turn a blind eye. After all, Jimmy owned the hospital and if he were sent to prison then his chariatable donations would stop and the hospital would not survive. He was a man who was allowed to get away with it. He was religeous and believed God was the fabric of his life. He made everyone feel happy and special but sometimes he went too far. He lived by the motto that ‘when a man knows he has done wrong he can make up for it by doing good’ and that is exactly what he did, he counteracted the terrible things he did in his life by raising over £40 million for charities.
TV impressionist, Alistair McGowan is uncomfortably realisitic as Jimmy Saville, with his long white hair, tracksuit, gold chains and a cigar that rarely leaves his mouth. It brings you back in your mind to his TV shows like Jim’ll Fix It, the show where millions of children would write to him every year asking him to help them make their dreams come true. Writing to Jim’ll Fix It was like writing a letter to Santa Claus at Christmas. Schools would encourage children to write in so they could practice writing. Years will have passed with these children feeling bruised that they never received a reponse from Jimmy but I’m sure over the last few years, since the allegations have come out, people are more relieved that they never got on to the show.
Leah Whitaker plays the role of abuse victim Lucy with anger in her eyes and hatred in her voice. A woman who has had to grow up screaming to the world about her abuse but never being believed. The other three members of the small cast of five take on a number of different roles. Charlotte Page is the innocent BBC TV crew member who witnesses the abuse but it made to keep quiet about it. She also plays the terrified but determined police woman who has fear in her eyes when talking to Jimmy but determination to have justice seen. Robert Perkins plays the other police man and also newspaper editor who tries to publish the story whilst Jimmy is alive but gets threatened by Jimmy, causing the story to be dropped.
An Audience With Jimmy Saville is a bitter pill to swallow, only four years after his death. It is a brilliantly told and well acted account of the allegations made against him but at no point does it feel like an attack on the man himself. It is informative and sensitively put together. For anyone who may have turned the pages of the newspapers, not wanting to know the details, perhaps now it is time to see this play and find out.
Reviewed by West End Wilma
Photo: Helen Maybanks
An Audience With Jimmy Saville is playing at the Park Theatre until 11 July 2015. For more information and to book tickets click here