★★★ | Pleasure
Val works as a toilet attendant in Pleasure, a gay club somewhere in the north of England, acting as confidante, agony aunt, mother figure and friend to the young men who frequent the club. Matthew is a hopeless romantic, Nathan is unsure of his sexuality and the cabaret act, Anna Fewmore, is bitter and jaded by time. But lost amongst the urinals and dramas of the club, Val harbours a dark secret and a past which is about to catch up with her.Lesley Garrett as Val; Photo Credit: Robert Workman
Written by Mark Simpson and Melanie Challenger, Pleasure plugs into both the cynicism and the optimism on display in the gay scene and looks at the secret lives, hidden pasts and major insecurities felt by many which remain hidden. Whilst Anna Fewmore sings “it doesn’t matter who you are, only what you appear to be”, there is optimism in the form of the bohemian Matthew’s ever persistent belief in love. But all of this is juxtaposed with the sad, tragic and lonely figure of Val; and the reason why she continues to hide herself away in the toilet of a gay club.
Simpsons score is an angular and jolting affair, which is oppressive and uneasy, mirroring the mixed emotions of the four characters and one which reflects the darker side of the gay scene; whilst Challenger’s libretto had moments which showed insight into the common fears of gay men. Lesley Garrett draws the attention as Val, Steven Page brims with bitterness as the jaded, acerbic cabaret star and Nick Pritchard and Timothy Nelson keep the burgeoning relationship between Matthew and Nathan on the right side of tender with just a hint of homoeroticism.
Pleasure is quite a dark examination of the tragedy of hidden lives, of the feelings that people so often keep to themselves, and of the pain and hurt hidden by someone amongst their acts of kindness to others. When someone mentions opera, you wouldn’t necessarily imagine Lesley Garrett scrubbing toilets in a seedy gay club, which is what makes Pleasure such a bold attempt at a contemporary opera.
With its stripped back presentation, Pleasure is a quite intense piece of theatre. Its operatic style and the themes explored make it a production which is not just challenging; but also which is not necessarily an easy watch. It requires the concentration and attention of its audience throughout but ultimately rewards the focussed viewer.
Pleasure is currently showing at the Howard Assembly Rooms in Leeds before touring to Liverpool Playhouse (4th May 2016); Aldeburgh: Britten Studio, Snape (7th May 2016) and Lyric Hammersmith (12th – 14th May 2016). For details and to book tickets visit www.operanorth.co.uk/productions/pleasure