Torch Song Trilogy is a series of semi-autobiographical plays by Harvey Fierstein about a gay drag queen performer living in New York. The first part, International Stud, premiered off-Broadway in 1978, and all three parts were performed together for the first time in 1982.
The Menier Chocolate Factory’s revival opened last night (12 June, previews from 30 May), directed by Douglas Hodge, who enjoyed international success in Fierstein's La Cage Aux Folles at the same venue.
Starring David Bedella in the lead role of Arnold Beckoff (played in the original production by the author), Torch Song Trilogy also features Tom Rhy Harries, Joe McFadden, Laura Pyper, Sara Kestelman and newcomer Perry Millward.
"Despite the best efforts of David Bedella as Arnold, who plays down the monstrosity while attending to the grace notes, the show, cut by an hour in Douglas Hodge’s nearly three-hour production (as it was when Antony Sher led the West End première in 1985), is still too baggy and flabby without Fierstein; and the big joke of a gay fantasia subsiding into formal sitcom respectability is too flattened out. Torch Song’s rambling imperfections and glorious special pleadings, once its strength, have become its slow-down weakness ... It is brave, risky almost, of Hodge to have both Alan and David played so ostentatiously “out” by Rhys Harries and newcomer Perry Millward (with a bruised eye and a Jedward hairstyle), and he doesn’t duck the tricky issue here of adoption instincts getting muddled with sexual engagement; this is the most notable area of sociological commentary in the play ... Mostly, though, the evening is slightly uphill work, without the pyrotechnical bravura of the show’s writer/performer to lighten the load and provide the whiplash venom needed for Arnold’s exchanges with his mother."
"Bedella shines as Arnold, whose life we follow over six years with pity, admiration and exasperation as he loses a bisexual lover to a passionless camouflage marriage, finds a new man, sees him murdered, and tries to build a home. In the first London revival since 1985 of Harvey Fierstein’s piece, it is fascinating how it still hits the spot. Legal persecution is over, but stigma endures: politics and Church fracture over 'normality' and same-sex marriage ... But the play’s strength lies deeper, in an Everyman struggle towards honest relationships ... Its brilliance is in demonstrating how fast 'tolerance' runs out when Arnold claims a full family life. We all recognise the social message: 'Be camp, amuse us, have your queeny civil partnerships, but don’t think you’re normal.' Yet we all want homes and all know grief. The most wrenchingly performed, horribly credible scene is a row between mother and son about whose widowhood is worst."
"Watching Hodge's beautifully staged production, I was struck by how this three-part work now manages to seem, in some respects, a period piece and, in others, ahead of the game. At its premiere, some commentators objected that the plays – which end with the rather wishful set-up of Arnold as adoptive parent to a gay teenager and back in the arms of the bisexual love of his life – confine gay aspiration to heterosexual templates. Things now look rather different in a world of civil partnerships and surrogacy ... With his huge pearly smile, David Bedella is perhaps too straightforwardly seductive as Arnold, a man whose witty Neil Simon-esque retorts are surely a defence against sexual insecurity and fear of loneliness. But he captivatingly communicates the character's outsized romantic spirit and struggle to be honest ... If it doesn't establish the piece as a classic, this revival does aspects of it proud."
"The action, which contains musical elements but ends up being a slice of domestic realism, revolves around Arnold Beckoff, a drag queen who is ‘generous in a bitchy sort of way’. He has issues with lovers, his mother and later the teenager he is intent on adopting. He’s provocative yet also thoughtful, and David Bedella imbues him with abrasive charm ... Although significantly shorter than the original, the action still runs nearly three hours. The writing is crammed with one-liners, yet sometimes flags. There are moments that drip with sentimentality, and the subject matter doesn’t pack the punch that it did in the Eighties. But Douglas Hodge’s revival is warm and tender, with Bedella especially moving."
"Arnold is a big and big hearted character, and so is this play (it clocks in at nearly three hours). While there are elements of soap opera and a dose of sentimentality, his anger is beautifully offset by the real humanity, wonderful wit and true love with which the character is drawn. Those different colours are revealed in the alternately fierce and tender performance of David Bedella ... But it’s also far from a one-man show, and Hodge’s production also has lovely performances from Joe McFadden as his confused lover, Laura Pyper as his lover’s wife, Tom Rhys Harries as his new partner and Perry Millward as his adopted son. Sara Kestelman has more gritty work to do as the mother, at once the most unsympathetic character on the stage as the channel for its portrait of bigotry, but also the most interestingly drawn. The play is deservedly a landmark of gay theatre, and this unmissable production serves it superbly."
- Stephanie Soh
to join the waiting list of our sold out event to TORCH SONG TRILOGY on
21 June 2012, including a top price ticket, a FREE programme and an
EXCLUSIVE post show Q&A all for the INCREDIBLE price of just £32
(with no additional booking fees)