A troubling play about a troubled man. So smarted by his prosecution in 1953 for cottaging, Gielgud seems to have retreated back into his own self-imposed closet like some limp-wristed schoolboy waiting for the head to tell him he was forgiven, at least that's how he comes over in this play. Instead of using his position and popularity to help change the law he seems to have been happy to take a back seat and let others do the hard work. I will have to presume that this was the case, as I'm not old enough to know otherwise, and the play doesn't tell us. Having lived into relatively modern times, I would have liked to have known if Gielgud got involved with campaigning for gay rights, against Section 28 etc. Perhaps he was there, like Sir Ian McKellan working hard in the background. The play doesn't tell us, stopping as it does, rather arbitrarily at the end of the 1970's with the coronation of Margaret Thatcher - an event which still got audible hisses from a pleasantly liberal audience - so we were left rather at a loss to know. I would have also liked to know about Martin Hensler, Gielgud's long-time partner. Were they together at any time during the arc of the play? Who was he? How did they meet? It seems to me that a much more satisfying place for the arc to come to rest would either have been at some major political shift - the coronation of La Thatch, though a dark day for gay men the length and bredth of the nation was not, in and of itself, a turning point. I believe we'd have had all the bile and hatred from the Tories whoever had been their leader. To end on a real low point it should have been Section 28, or any number of other bits of Tory discrimination. Better to end on a high... Sir John finds love at last - back to Martin Hensler. If he was mentioned, I missed it, and not even Wikipedia has anything to say about him. Anyway, the play.
In contrast to a very well known West-End director who was pontificating about the lack of development of the characters in the bar during the interval, I thought the characters were well drawn, though suffering from, probably necessarily, brief exposure. I've only ever seen Dame Sybil Thorndike on film, but here she was warm, generous, and a friend to the put-upon Sir John. There is a satisfying enough amount of good-looking young horseflesh - that would certainly have pleased Sir John - and the interweaving of several strands - police, theatre, politics - works well, and breaks up what could potentially have been a very worthy, if boring, evenings entertainment. This is commercial theatre, not some audience defying dross at The Royal Court, and I think that critics, including our friend in the interval bar, would do well to remember that. Talking of the bar, we also spotted an oscar-winning screenwriter together with one of country's hottest actors. Could it be that Bill Kenwright is bringing them both on board for the journey to the big screen? The play would merit by a little polishing. The first act is most satisfying, but the scenes in the second act seem unfeasably shory, as if someone had rather cack-handedly tried to lop twenty minutes off the running time. And what's that ending all about? The last five minutes of the play is some surreal disjunction of character and time that, quite frankly, don't work! That's the main reason I've given the play 3 rather than 4 stars. All in all, I really enjoyed the play, as did my partner, and as did the almost-full house when we saw it last Thursday Evening. Will I be going to see it again? Probably not. Would I suggest you go and see it? Yes, go. Will it work as a film? Definatly, and a good one. - Richard Voyce
19 Apr 09
This is a deeply old-fashioned play riddled with caricatures, cliches and stale jokes. It covers historical territory that has been well covered before without adding or illuminating anything. Cramming 28 scenes into two hours results in a complete lack of depth. I found Michael Feast's Geilgud unbelievably camp, but I shall bow to his better judgement as he worked with him. Why has Bill Kenright and an excellent cast chosen to get involved with it? I can only assume Celia Imrie's post-show Q&A joke 'in the hope that Nicholas De Jongh doesn't pan her in the future' is actually true! Despite most of his fellow critics rather shameful kid glove treatment, it clearly hasn't found an audience - without the WOS crowd last night it would have been very empty indeed and as the young actor charmingly said at the end of the Q&A 'it was great to see so many people here tonight'. It seems all those dreadful bloggers might have more of a say than you think, Mr De Jongh.
P.S. I've got used to my reader comments being censored on the Evening Standard web site, but I was rather disappointed to have my Q&A question censored by WOS - shame on you! - Gareth James
13 Mar 09
This is not a play - it as a series of sketches filled with caricatures. The idea that these sketches bear any relation to reality is a poor joke. It is rather less of a joke that critics who have presumably known the author as a fellow-critic for many years have provided him with good reviews which his so-called play does not deserve. Most remarkable of all is the fact that, despite being a critic for so many years, the author appears to have learned nothing about what makes a good play. - A theatre enthusiast
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