Daniel Evans may have spent the last 18 months proving himself a competent artistic director at Sheffield Theatres, but in their latest production, the regional premiere of Alexi Kaye Campbell's award-winning drama The Pride, he reminds us why he originally made his name as an actor.
As its title implies, The Pride explores gay rights, identities and prejudices. Kaye Campbell’s innovation is to place a group of characters, who remain the same age throughout the play, in two time periods: 1958 and 2008. We watch what they become within these vastly different worlds. Evan’s performance in the central role is pitch-perfect. He slips fluently between the enthusiastic, struggling, sensitive Oliver of 1958 and his urbane but needy 21st-century counterpart. Oliver #2 may have gained liberation, but has he lost some personal integrity along the way?
Evans is supported by a strong ensemble. Claire Price brings a huge energy to her roles as a 1950s housewife, trying to come to terms with her husband’s latent homosexuality and a modern woman, who seems to take gay rights more seriously than her gay friends. Jamie Sives is both chilling and desperately sad as her violently repressed husband and touchingly vulnerable as a man who today rejects the stereotype of gay promiscuity. Jay Simpson plays a range of supporting roles with great comic timing and only occasional lapses of focus.
The sterling cast are held together by Richard Wilson’s truthful, unfussy direction and James Cotterill’s clean, economical designs. The exquisite attention to detail in Cotterill’s costumes deserves a specific mention.
At one point in the play, the modern-day Oliver questions the nature of gay Pride. Is it, he asks, a demonstration? A celebration? A fashion show? Sylvia argues that it's all these things, in this order, and the same could be said for Campbell’s play. Essential moral questions are raised and we're confronted by the shocking and disturbing. This play could not be further from cosy Hobson’s Choice, currently playing on the Crucible’s main stage. Yet Wilson’s production is also full of warmth and humour and we're left with an overwhelming sense of humanity and possibility.
This is a beautiful, hopeful play about the potential for societies and individuals to grow, and the sadness that surrounds those who cannot. In staging the regional premiere of this important work, Sheffield has made one of their bravest programming decisions since redevelopment and have been rewarded with one of their greatest achievements.