The Pride is not just the name of a London festival in Alexi Kaye Campbell’s recently revived play.
It is a word that encompasses a movement, a period of history in which individuals have fought against society and themselves to accept who they really are.
The play opens in a posh city household in Conservative 1958 Britain. The sensitive children’s author Oliver has just met Philip, the husband of his colleague Sylvia, before they head out to dinner. What begins as awkwardness between the two men slowly and subtly turns into a secret intimacy that struggles to remain swept under the carpet. A few minutes later, we are thrown into the promiscuous world of another Oliver, a modern-day young man who is struggling to pry himself from his “addiction” whilst never fully letting go of his ex, Philip. The premise sounds confusing but Jamie Lloyd’s direction enhances the play’s juxtaposing structure through the use of appropriate costumes and staging. A giant antique mirror looming over the actors suggests they are subconsciously linked, as if the current moderately widespread, but still not perfect, acceptance of homosexuals could not have existed without the sufferings of their predecessors.
…stiflingly Conservative context…
Throughout the play the mood frequently shifts back and forth from playful to confrontational, resulting in a comfortable pace but unclear intentions. Several aggressive scenes indicate that this piece is a drama sprinkled with a few witty one-liners. The harsh, trembling light and sound transitions add eeriness to the darker scenes, but feel out of place when matched with lighter conversations. The playwright has evidently attempted to contrast the attitudes towards homosexuality of the past and present, yet the tension of the scenes of the 1950’s tend to carry much more emotional weight, perhaps due to the stiflingly Conservative context.
The highlights of this play are its refreshingly relatable dialogue and notable performances. Al Weaver gives both Olivers a nimble humility that is irresistible, and Harry Hadden-Paton brings a coarse bite to the troubled Philip. Matthew Horne delivers a versatile seediness as callboy, editor, and medical therapist, however Hayley Atwell is more natural and convincing as frank, modern-day Sylvia in comparison to her rigid, and sometimes forced, wife of the past.
…unresolved, unsatisfying, and does not leave a vigorous aftertaste…
The Pride is an honest, intimate look at changing perceptions of homosexual relationships, yet it only somewhat opens the eyes of the audience to the complex identity issues that can result. Although its conflicts are topical and credible, the play’s ending is unresolved, unsatisfying, and does not leave a vigorous aftertaste. Not to say that every LGBT-related play must contain a shock factor in order to make a point. But The Pride did not feel quite as provocative or pungent as other groundbreaking works such as The Laramie Project. This piece has its thoughtful reflections but also a fair share of filler conversations with a tad too much profanity. With some fine tuning The Pride could pack a sharper emotional punch without needing to protest with “to Russia with love” placards at curtain call.
The Pride runs until 9 November at the Trafalgar Studios. Tickets are £24.50 to £65.00 and can be purchased from the Theatres website.
Check out the opening night footage: