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A CurtainUp London Review
by Tim Newns
The play is a combination of verbatim House of Commons speeches, cabaret songs and personal stories of heartbreak and betrayal. The speeches take us back to the difficulties liberal fighters faced in parliament and concentrate our thoughts on why the state actually had any right to infringe on the private acts of consenting adults.
The political frame of the piece is given soul as we hear the harrowing tale of a man in power, brought down by his helpless love for a man he met in slightly dubious circumstances in the Leicester Square toilets. At first one might question the necessity of sexual encounters such as this in what could be an intelligent analysis of equality in the 60s, but actually it is a stark reminder how people were forced to meet in such unflattering locations, living out their lives and relationships behind closed doors.
Baldwin plays the different characters convincingly and delivers the speeches with an accurate sense of decorum. He certainly succeeds in captivating his audience from beginning to end, and the pace of the piece does run smoothly between the different elements. The cabaret style songs, including a version of "Fanny Boy", do provide moments of humour and relief but sometimes seem out of place subsequently diminishing the power of the subject matter. The moments of personal anecdotes and reminiscence do also try to pull at the emotional strings but perhaps fall short of adding any real poignancy. However, one could argue that this approach allows for a more relaxed study.
What the production does accomplish is forging an appetite to learn more about the political fabric of the time. The Wolfenden Report is the focal point and it is a shame, perhaps only felt by me, that the piece doesn't provide more elements of legislative education. There are also some rather oblique references to the modern day that provide comparison to the time explored. These are sketchy in their construction and I think the piece would be more effective if we are firmly rooted in the past.
There is a simple set of white scroll upon which we have Gavin Dobson's illustrations that depict sexuality and openness. This is surrounded by dressing room style light bulbs adding to the cabaret style identity of the piece. The placing of one microphone combined with Baldwin's 60's parliamentarian exterior of suit, bowler hat and umbrella are well chosen to transport us to the Commons.
This production has heart and point but I think it could be much more brave with the verbatim material, focusing the piece on what is an interesting chapter of equality and debate in the UK. Saying that, the composition of cabaret and the oratorical is certainly appealing to many and just when you think things have got a little silly, the writing does manage to force moments of reflection.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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