The line between coy and vulgarComment on this story
Director: Geoffrey Hyland
Cast: Nicholas Campbell and Oskar Brown
Venue: Alexander Upstairs Theatre
until: Next Saturday
Navigating the choppy waters of sexual discovery is the journey on which we are taken in this taut, at times painfully honest, two-hander by Oskar Brown.
An intimate venue, an edgy, monochromatic set, and skilful direction by Geoffrey Hyland all enhance two intensely focused performances from Brown and his co-actor, Nicholas Campbell, making this the sort of play one would happily revisit.
The action begins in the present, at an unhappy juncture in the lead’s love life: a relationship has come to an end and he is craving the solace of a cigarette in defiance of having given up his nicotine addiction. A series of flashbacks re-create his past, from the first awareness of sexuality to his current situation.
Each vignette is enacted by Brown and Campbell with intelligence, energy and insight. Their costume changes are swiftly and neatly effected by donning and doffing a variety of tops, but even this minimal help in evoking different scenarios and different stages of life is not strictly necessary, as the duo both muster the facial repertoire and body language to convey what is needed.
A bonus in the script is the inclusion of Shakespearean lines culled largely from the sonnets, although there are other quotes from plays like Othello and Hamlet.
The justification for this is built into the relationship between the two men: one is coaching the other for an audition in a Shakespeare play. Since both have clear, elegant diction, it is a pleasure to hear the repeated lines as they evolve towards the requisite calibre for the audition.
From the boisterous physicality of little boys, through the trauma of a gay youth bullied by a bigoted contemporary at school, as well as the heady discovery (pun intended) of blow jobs and stimulating girlie magazines, the pair suggest the odyssey traversed by the lead.
Brown maintains his character with authority, while Campbell’s versatility in diverse supporting roles is remarkable. Despite the explicit nature of the action, commendable discretion is exercised in its portrayal; a fine balance is maintained to tread the line between vulgar exhibitionism and coyness – another of the production’s manifold merits.
The mix of psychological truth, philosophical depth and understated humour makes for an arresting piece of theatre. Bravo to cast and director.