Reviewed by Alex Foott
The Pride (Stonewall Gala Evening)
Performance date – Wednesday 9th October 2013
As Russia threatens to hurl itself into the rather self-destructive acceptance of homophobia, there is no better time to present a play that demonises such a sentiment. The Pride is a balanced exploration of homosexuality in both the 1950s and the present day. Alexi Kaye Campbell’s latest piece invites us to consider the gross suppression of homosexuality that the Western world has since largely abandoned, demonstrating its damaging effect. It also confronts us with the fact that such a backwards mentality is still prevalent in 78 countries around the world. Equally it portrays the typical concerns within the gay community, ranging from the simple fear of acknowledging one’s sexuality to the more developed troubles of infidelity within same-sex relationships. By displaying the similarities and celebrating the differences between straight and gay lifestyles, The Pride heroically puts two fingers up to Russia’s ridiculous step backwards.
The story begins in the 1950s with Sylvia and Philip, a conventionally married couple who are unable to have children. Having miscarried, Sylvia begins to illustrate for Oliver, a writer of children’s stories. She invites Oliver to dinner with her husband and there is an immediate awkwardness between the two men. Philip suspects Oliver of being homosexual, expressing his discomfort and requesting Sylvia to stop socialising with him. However, we soon become aware that Philip’s motives are not as clear as they first appeared. Intersecting this plot at intervals is an interpretation of the same characters placed in the present day. We see Oliver and Philip as a newly separated couple who have come to blows over Oliver’s infidelity. His battle with sex addiction compels him to seek solace in his best friend Sylvia who advises him to concentrate on his work.
While The Pride establishes the evolution of society’s acceptance of homosexuality, it draws attention to the continuing struggles of the LGBT community. Primarily it demonstrates the heightened battle to find one’s own identity in a society that so forcefully tells us what gay men and women are. It also questions whether homosexuality reinforces the inclination to lie with the vast majority of people having lied until the point of coming out. Suggesting that mental disorders and adultery are a common concern in gay and lesbian lifestyles, this is a play that portrays the need for acceptance in an ever-developing world. Al Weaver and Harry Hadden-Paton competently portray realistic imaginings of two very different gay men. Their subtlety and sensitivity mesh with Alexi Kaye Campbell’s poignant and comically sweet script to provide us with a balanced assessment of homosexuality’s place in society. Hayley Atwell is sensational as the dual role of Sylvia, displaying insight into both the deceived housewife and the sexuality-savvy contemporary woman. Alasdair Buchan (understudy for Mathew Horne) delights in his various supporting roles, supplying comic relief amid the otherwise sombre scenes.
As part of Jamie Lloyd’s season for Trafalgar Transformed, this evening’s performance was preceded by a panel discussion with Stonewall called Tackling Homophobia. Stonewall’s Head of Education, Wes Streeting, led the panel consisting of Alexi Kaye Campbell, Will Young, Suzi Ruffel and Layton Williams. He demonstrated the damaging effect that language has on the increasing acceptance of homosexuality, particularly the pejorative use of ‘gay’. Each of the panelists told of their personal experiences growing up with this negative connotation which prompted Streeting to declare that 23% of young gay men and women attempt suicide, a frankly sickening statistic. An especially thought-provoking moment was provided by Williams, the youngest of the panel. He suggested that, while tremendous work is being done in schools to promote a positive attitude to homosexuality and bisexuality, there is a real lack of support shown by the parents of these children.
The Pride is a truly steadfast refusal of homophobia and, combined with Stonewall’s admirable work, it condemns the antediluvian intolerance of lifestyles that wander from the normal (whatever that is). With a cast that gracefully handles the troubles and tribulations of LGBT people, this ever-relevant piece triumphs over Putin’s desire to stunt and even reverse his country’s development.
The Pride is written by Alexi Kaye Campbell and directed by Jamie Lloyd