Prick Up Your Ears is described as a new play, which is kind of stretching the truth slightly, as the source material formed the basis for Stephen Frears' film of the same name, released in 1987. It is difficult to forget Gary Oldman's strident turn, as celebrated gay playwright Joe Orton and Alfred Molina's tic-filled performance as his tormented lover, Kenneth Halliwell.
So, the producers have cast funnyman Matt Lucas as Orton's devoted lover, hoping to get a full house via his name alone. Chris New, fresh from his success in the recent West End revival of Bent plays Orton. These two performers are like chalk and cheese and this works to a certain extent, as they are able to bring different aspects of their own personalities to the roles. But Lucas never seems to fully let go of his famous TV comedy characters, often lapsing into a 'funny' voice that you have heard before, which means you never quite believe he is playing a serious role.
New nails the creative side of Joe, almost pushing Kenneth aside, as success looms. But he fails to capture the full predatory nature of Orton. He is not helped by Daniel Kramer's static direction which never really takes you anywhere, aside the famous flat. We are also never introduced to Orton's anonymous conquests, the star of Loot; Kenneth Williams or the police. Therefore, the denouement seems somewhat stilted and inevitable.
The boys' landlady Mrs Corden is a warm hearted, caring character who certainly brings light and shade to the production via Gwen Taylor's perfectly pitched performance. You find out so much about this lonely character in the form of snapshots, through her matronly body language, which contrasts greatly with the sledgehammer approach that Kramer uses for the murder scene, rendering it completely over the top and therefore lacking any emotional pay off for the audience.
Peter McKintosh's superb set design captures the claustrophobia within the flat and the collage filled walls highlight Kenneth's constantly changing state of mind wonderfully well.
There is a great story here, and on paper a comedian like Lucas is ideal casting, but Daniel Kramer's production itself is quite clean and workmanlike, meaning that even a star name like this, cannot disguise the fact that this true tale has nothing new to say.