This is the first revival of The Present since it premiered at the Bush in 1995. Nick Ward’s play is a nostalgic homage to the lost hippy dream, a love letter to John Lennon that somehow remains fresh, funny and poignant.
Set in 1980, days after the assassination of John Lennon, the play tells the story of Danny, an English teenager in Australia. Michael, an aging hippy and cynical art dealer, takes the boy under his wing and introduces him to a world of sex, drugs and modern installation art. The feeling is of a latter day Dorian Gray.
This four-hander showcases some very good acting. As Michael, Nathan Godkin is electric, hilarious and very creepy. Shelly Lang, playing the man-eating lesbian Becky, gives one of the best performances I have ever seen on the Fringe. She creates a character who is at once both larger than life and totally believable.
Max Lindsay however is woefully miscast as Danny. This character hinges on the tension between youth’s naive corruptibility and its power to corrupt. Unfortunately Lindsay conveys either quality: he is simply not 18-years-old. It is worth mentioning that the actor originally cast – and therefore featured in all the publicity material - was laid low by swine flu during rehearsals. It’s a shame, because that actor’s angelic looks would have explained the other characters’ desire to recapture the optimism of their own youth by feeding off Danny’s.
The white, minimalist set works well, suggesting both Spartan gallery space and sun-bleached beach houses. It also provides a nice, jarring contrast with the messily Bohemian antics of the characters. There is some slightly awkward staging, however, so try to get there early for a seat in the front row.
Any play that comes with the warning “contains nudity and incense” should be approached with extreme caution. However The Present is far from self-indulgent. It is an intelligent, moving play that will make you laugh and leave you wanting to see more revivals of Nick Ward’s work.
- Georgia Blake