The Theatreguide.London Review
Royal Court Theatre Upstairs Winter 2008
Alexi Kaye Campbell's first play contrasts the lives of homosexuals in London fifty years apart by juxtaposing the experiences of two sets of characters with the same names but little else in common.
In 1958 Philip is married to Sylvia but panicked by his attraction to Oliver, which he fights with every conventional impulse in him.
In 2008 Philip and Oliver are lovers (and Sylvia a supportive friend) whose bond is threatened by the easy availability of anonymous sex but who are reconciled in the healthy and affirmative atmosphere of a Gay Pride march.
Of course the contrast is not quite that simplistic. The 1958 and 2008 Olivers are both looking for love more than sex, the 1958 Sylvia strives painfully for the charity and understanding her 2008 counterpart takes for granted, and even in the new century the gay characters find themselves patronised and marginalised by supposedly liberal straights.
And of course much of this ground has been covered before. Caryl Churchill's 1979 Cloud Nine compared Victorian repression to the liberated 1970s and found as many new problems as improvements.
And earlier this year Nicholas de Jongh's Plague Over England captured the pains of 1950s gay life, including a character undergoing horrific aversion therapy as Campbell's Philip does.
Still, some of the 1950s material may be news to younger audiences, and some of the author's reservations about how far we've actually come thought-provoking. And he certainly has packaged his thoughts in two strong and involving stories, with rounded characters whose emotional journeys are very real.
Jamie Lloyd's direction, moving smoothly back and forth between time frames, and the performances by JJ Feild, Bertie Carvel and Lyndsey Marshal in their dual roles (with support from Tim Stead in several smaller parts) are impeccable.
Feild makes the 1958 Philip almost a parody of Noel Coward without the wit, his emotions as tightly controlled as his clipped speech, but so buttoned-down that he constantly threatens to explode, while the 2008 Philip is healthy, self-accepting and unhappy only in his love life.
Bertie Carvel shows us the two Olivers' loneliness and yearning while keeping them clearly individualised, while Lyndsey Marshal moves with ease between the deeply unhappy and the almost wholly carefree versions of Sylvia.
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