The Menier Chocolate Factory’s timely London revival shows Torch Song Trilogy is, alas, still as relevant today as
three decades ago, says OutUK correspondent Adrian Gillan – although it's not quite a classic yet.
It is almost 30 years to the day since Harvey Fierstein’s full trilogy - about Jewish New York drag queen Arnold’s fight for acceptance and
happiness - was first performed on Broadway, to great critical acclaim. It was soon followed by a West End production, in 1985, with Antony Sher and
Rupert Graves; then a 1988 film version staring Fierstein himself, with Anne Bancroft and Matthew Broderick.
Although many laws, in at least our part of the world, may have changed since 1982, the ongoing battle for hearts and minds – the fact that gay people
still struggle for acceptance at home, work or school, still face the danger of bullying and assault, still cannot safely walk hand-in-hand, let alone
marry - means the Menier Chocolate Factory’s long-overdue culled-to-three-hours revival of the comedy-drama, may not shock quite as it once did, but is
still largely as relevant. It is anything but a dated period piece.
Set in the late 1970s and early 1980s, this collection of what was originally developed as three short plays, is now presented together as three acts.
In Act 1, located mainly in a gay club, essentially romantic Arnold falls for closeted bisexual Ed, who soon enough leaves him to live with a woman, Laurel.
In Act 2, a short time later, Arnold and his new, much younger, boyfriend, Alan, visit Ed and Laurel for the weekend – prompting relatively predictable jealousies
and insecurities, not least as Ed seduces Alan.
David Bedella as Arnold. Photo:Catherine Ashmore
In Act 3, several years later, we find that Alan has been brutally murdered by homophobes, and that Arnold is now
raising wild teen David who he hopes to adopt – just as Ed resurfaces, having left Laurel, and just as Arnold’s homophobic Jewish mum drops by for good measure!
Douglas Hodge returns to the Chocolate Factory, after his Olivier and Tony award-winning performance in its recent production of La Cage aux Folles,
also written by Harvey Fierstein. But this time he directs.
The lead role of Arnold is charmingly and passionately played by fellow Olivier-award winner, David Bedella, another Chocolate Factory favourite. Yet another
Olivier-award winner, Sara Kestelman, plays Arnold's mother, with such superb comic aplomb and sympathetic angst you almost forget she is rather the villain of the piece,
remaining unable to properly overcome her anti-gay stance at the play’s end.
Perhaps Joe McFadden lacks sufficient machismo or raw sex-appeal for the role of closet/bisexual Ed, and his native Scottish hues creep through a tad too oft. And handsome young
Tom Rhys Harries sulks, pipes and pouts his way through the rather thinly-drawn character of boyfriend, Alan, in an Act 2 set entirely on a bed but which does drag on somewhat,
despite the best efforts of Laura Pyper as Laurel.
Looking like a young Ken Dodd and sounding like a new character in The Simpsons, young Perry Millward - playing Arnold’s ‘son’ David – is in danger of stealing the show when he
refreshingly lights up the stage in the final act, the strongest portion of the trilogy. He has huge stage presence, filling every beat, and a natural gift for both the comedy and the
more dramatic moments. Electric. One to watch.
Soutra Gilmour‘s design works a treat, especially in the opening act, at the nightclub. Good use of a live solo harp throughout the show too, to accompany the odd
lightly sung song.
Despite a slightly over-contrived script that creaks in places, and an at times unconvincing and meandering middle act, this spirited Chocolate Factory revival suggests Torch Song Trilogy is
still - perhaps slightly sadly - in all too many ways as pertinent today as three decades ago. So it’s not a period piece quite yet; yet, perhaps, nor is it timeless enough to ever become an
Torch Song Trilogy runs at the Menier Chocolate Factory, 53 Southwark Street, London SE1 1RU, until 12 Aug 2012. Tues-Sat at 8pm; Sat & Sun at 3.30pm.
Standard Seats £29.50, ‘Meal Deal’ (2-course pre-theatre meal + show) £37.
Book online at menierchocolatefactory.com or on 0207 378 1713.