First staged at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh in 1966, before transferring to The Royal Court in the same year, The Local Stigmatic by poet / playwright / painter / sculptor Heathcote Williams shocked audiences with its raw and unprovoked violence and is considered a ‘Cult Classic’ today. Al Pacino was impressed enough to turn the one-act play into a film in 1990, taking on the role of Graham himself. The story of two celebrity obsessed sociopaths returns to the stage for its 50th Anniversary.

Graham and Ray are two working class lads who spend their days gambling on dog races and reading the newspaper gossip columns. Their walls are plastered with photos of celebrities, including JFK, HMQ, the Beatles, and album covers. Graham is an aggressive, highly unpredictable and wolfish man who seems to dominate the seemingly laid back Ray, but as they are bickering and arguing we find out that Ray is not quite as harmless as he appears. During one of their nights out, they meet an actor who Graham is “following”. They appeal to the vanity of the mildly famous David at first, only to play a manipulative and cruel game with him.

The Local Stigmatic is a study of two psychotic men who are obsessed with celebrity culture but feel a deep hatred at the same time because they will never achieve the – underserved – status of their idols. When they finally encounter one of the lucky few, years of frustration and aggression erupt.

Michael Toumey’s production is unsettling from the start, with threats hidden in seemingly trivial dialogue about dog races and the latest celebrity gossip. Wilson James plays Graham with the charm of a switchblade knife. Everything about Graham spells aggression and violence, very much like one of the more notorious characters in a Pinter play. Interestingly enough, The Local Stigmatic was originally paired with Pinter’s Dwarves. William Frazer’s Ray is perhaps even more disturbing because he remains cold and detached, his hatred and anger suppressed. Dressed in black and donning leather jackets and sun glasses, the two protagonists try to appear hip, hanging around in trendy bars with atmospheric haze (lighting design by Tom Kitney) and songs by the Kinks and other bands of the period. Tom Sawyer’s David, at first flattered by the fan boy approach of the two protagonists, soon displays a very real and understandable unease.

Considering that we are living in an age of neo-liberalism in which material goods are idolised almost as much as celebrities, the revival of this play could not be more timely.

Reviewed by Carolin Kopplin
Photo: Scott Rylander

The Local Stigmatic is playing at the Old Red Lion Theatre until 28th May