Alexi Kaye Campbell's The Pride (2008), triumphantly revived by Jamie Lloyd as the third production in his superb "Trafalgar Transformed" season, ends on press night with the cast brandishing "To Russia, With Love" banners at the curtain call.
This witty protest against President Putin's law to suppress so-called gay propaganda in Moscow is all the more effective following a play that is discreet, humane, non-doctrinaire and also funny about matters of sexual shame, anguish and deception in all our adult lives.
But the title – and this, Campbell's first play, is surely his best – offers a double meaning, aligning dignity in society-induced suppression with the out-gay defiance on the contemporary streets, and these two themes characterise the interwoven time-scales of the late 1950s and the present day.
In both strands, a triangular relationship of two gay men, Oliver and Philip, and the woman, Sylvia, they both love – yes, this really is a remarkably imaginative double update of Noël Coward's Design For Living (1932) – is first vitiated by the "pride" of the buttoned-up 1950s and later by post-Aids promiscuity.
Newly re-cast since the premiere in the Royal Court's Theatre Upstairs (and a subsequent revival at Daniel Evans' Sheffield Crucible), the acting is absolutely first rate, allowing all of Campbell's subtlety and humour in showing these tortured lives, irradiated by Oliver's early speech of epiphany on Delphi, where an oracular voice promises that there will be understanding, one day, in a full awareness of ourselves.
That sounds corny out of context, but Al Weaver makes the speech sing in between painting his delightful diptych of a wary, charming and appealing Oliver, a children's author and travel writer, and his more commercially-minded and badly-behaved journalist counterpart.
Hayley Atwell's mesmerising, beautiful Sylvia is an actress turned illustrator in the Rattiganesque sequences, reverting to the first vocation later on, while also shifting from frustrated wife ofHarry Hadden-Paton's stuffed shirt property dealer Philip to best friend of the modern Oliver. In the last scene, which is set, with balloons and a picnic, on the fringe of a Gay Pride march, Sylvia threatens to introduce her new lover, Mario.
I was half-hoping that Mathew Horne would turn up in that boyfriend role; he has already contributed hilarious sketches of a fed-up, Nazi-style rent boy and a florid, vulgar magazine editor with his own "experience" of gay tragedy, as well as a chilling doctor in a scene of "curing" homosexuality that is authentically historic.
Otherwise, the structure of the play is both original and faultless, Lloyd ghosting his characters past each other, with some stunning juxtapositions and echoes on Soutra Gilmour's huge tarnished mirror which is, suitably enough, both gloriously decorative and dangerously transparent.
The Pride continues at Trafalgar Studios 1 until 9 November 2013. Come on our hosted WhatsOnStage Outing on 18 September 2013 including a top-price ticket, a FREE poster and access to our EXCLUSIVE post-show Q&A with cast including Hayley Atwell - all for £32.00.