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Tuesday, 27 August 2013 01:00

The Pride

Theatre
Trafalgar Studios London SW1
by Angel Dahouk

A play on the changing sexual landscape over the last 50 years isn't the modern classic it purports to be

Five years after its debut run upstairs at the Royal Court theatre, The Pride returns to the stage with a fresh cast as part of the Trafalgar Transformed season.

With critics lauding the play as a modern classic, actor-turned-playwright Alexi Kaye Campbell quickly secured himself a selection of awards including the Critics' Circle prize for most promising playwright.

Seamlessly switching between two different eras, the play is set both in 1958 and 2008. In the earlier period we meet Philip (Harry Hadden-Paton), his wife Sylvia (Hayley Atwell) and Sylvia's colleague Oliver (Al Weaver).

Oliver is being entertained at the couple's house, with Sylvia eager to introduce her husband to her colleague.

Underlying the affable exchanges of stories and laughter is a discernible sexual tension between the two men.

Fifty years on the same three emerge. Yet while their names remain unchanged they are entirely different characters with a new set of dynamics.

Philip is now Oliver's boyfriend and Sylvia is Oliver's best friend. Philip is troubled by Oliver's inclination towards anonymous, and mostly deviant, sex while Sylvia's role shifts to that of a consoling friend.

She sacrifices her own intimacies to tend to a distressed Oliver whose promiscuous behaviour provokes a series of fall-outs.

While there is humour in Campbell's fast-paced dialogue and playful cameos - a call boy in nazi costume, a wide-boy lad's mag editor - from Gavin & Stacey star Mathew Horne, there is an imposing isolation that pursues each character from past to present.

This is further accentuated by Soutra Gilmour's haunting set in which a discoloured two-way mirror upstage both reflects and silhouettes the characters.

The '50s scenes are taut with sublimated desire, where control easily turns to aggression. Sometimes this point becomes laboured as Campbell makes overt references to oppressive regimes, the fascist call boy being an example.

But there are moments that heave with heartbreak, sensitively accomplished by a superb cast.

Hayley Atwell in particular provides a delicate portrayal of a devastated wife meeting with her husband's lover.

Sadly, Campbell is of a school where endings are studious and neat. In the first scene the '50s Oliver describes his epiphany in Delphi where a supernatural voice tells him that everything will be alright.

In the final scene the '50s Sylvia steps into the present, hovering as an apparition behind Philip and Oliver to repeat these words.

Yet, for a play that does well to explore the repercussions of discrimination from one generation to the next, this romantic reprise is a disappointingly light-touch conclusion.

Runs until November 9. Box office: (020) 7492-1548.

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