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A CurtainUp London Review
Torch Song Trilogy
The first play, The International Stud, sets the scene for the others, with Arnold as a witty raconteur of his string of disastrous relationships and hopeless affairs. He plays “music to be miserable by” and concentrates on one particular relationship. That's with Canadian Ed (Joe McFadden) who has bi-sexual leanings and conforms to family expectations by finding a girlfriend.
In the second play Fugue in a Nursery Arnold goes to stay with Ed and his girlfriend Laurel (Laura Piper), taking with him Arnold’s beautiful new and young boyfriend, Alan (Tom Rhys Harries). “Imagine being hostess to your lover’s ex and his new boyfriend,” says Laurel.
After the interval the concluding Widows and Children First sees Ed is renewing his relationship with Arnold who is fostering a quirky gay teenager, David ( irresistibly played by Perry Millward), and is enduring a visit from his mother, Mrs Beckoff (an irrepressible Sara Kestelman). Arnold has lost Alan in tragic circumstances.
The first play has a wonderful set of dressing room mirrors and doors as David Bedella changes in and out and in and out of his drag costume, makeup and wig. Joe McFadden has a sweet innocence about him which allows us to forgive his sexual ambivalence. Much of this consists of witty monologue as Arnold sets the New York gay scene including a visit to the anonymous “back room” in a dive. In Fugue in a Nursery, the action is choreographed with all four gymnastically playing somersaults on the diagonals of tw double beds to the lone harpist accompaniment. The shifting relationship permutations are explored and developed and Laurel goes off “pop” saying “I’m fine,” when she is obviously not at all fine. The rows emerge and Laurel and Arnold confide betrayals in each other. There is a shock at the end of this act which I won’t spoil.
T Widows and Children First introduces Arnold’s difficult mother and eccentric fostered teenager, David. The witty repartee ricochets round the walls of the Manhattan apartment which is filled with bunny ceramics and soft toys and posters of Judy Garland, Billie Holiday and Lisa Minnelli. Some of the double standards are explored as Mrs Beckoff rages about the death of her husband, voices her intolerance of her son’s sexual orientation and Arnold expresses what he would feel if David brought home a girlfriend. As Arnold explains that he is fostering David because “David is gay,” his mother retorts, “But he’s only been here 6 months!” as if there was a causal relationship. We tolerate Mrs Beckoff’s prejudices because she is also witty. “I’m telling you Arnold, Women’s Liberation” is giving me varicose veins!”
I became fond of Fierstein’s characters and was quite moved by the closing declaration of “I will never turn my back on you” which reminded me of the song “I am what I am”. Perry Millward as David with a ridiculously puffed up hairstyle preens but has found a family where he can express himself. All this is set before the horrible advent of AIDs. The director has added his own choice of songs including “My Funny Valentine”, “You Made Me Love You” and “Yes Sir That’s My Baby”. Douglas Hodge has coaxed excellent performances from his actors and Kestelman and Bedella are on top form.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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