As I sat to eat at the Menier Theatre’s restaurant, I was told by my companions for the evening, that I had indeed seen this show before. Had I? Gosh, I really need to stop drinking wine it’s giving me entire artistic black-outs.
Vague memories of a 80’s film, set in a grubby New York apartment came flooding back, and for some reason, although J’adore Harvey Fierstein, the play’s author and the film’s star I don’t recall liking this movie, doubled with the fact that with whispers of a near 3 hour run-time, I had fears for the evening.
However, Douglas Hodge’s direction for the multi award winning, highly regarded play, was one of the most emotionally engaging performances I’ve seen in a long time.
There are moments of sheer brilliance from David Bedella, bravely and successfully taking on the iconic role and gravely tones of Arnold, the tough but somewhat insecure drag queen , who works The International Stud back room bar, in more ways than one. He falls head over glittery heels with bisexual Brooklyn teacher, Ed (Joe McFadden.)
So here’s the story in a nutshell. Ed gets a girl (Laura Pyper, brilliantly and annoyingly impish and liberal) and leaves Arnold, Arnold finds boy (Tom Rhys Harries, blonde, beautiful and bubble butted) Ed seduces boy; boy dies; girl leaves Ed; Arnold adopts new boy (sassy Perry Millward,) Ed returns to Arnold. It’s gay Eastenders. There is potential cause for over dramatisation in this sequence of events, yet the text doesn’t allow for melodrama. Instead, we move from section to section (there are three) seamlessly.
What makes Torch Song Trilogy amazing, is the 2nd act. Enter Arnold’s Jewish-American mom (Sara Kestelman.) Whose delivery of Fierstein’s wall-to-wall bitchy quips had my British-Jewish friend curled up in stitches and at one point whispering, ‘Oh God, it’s my Mother…’ There is no drought in laughter from the audience who lap up every last witticism, one-liner and bitch. No quote, thankfully, is left impotent.
At the height of the altercation between twin slippered mother and son, you get to see the pinnacle of acting, climaxing into an unwieldy parochial quagmire, from which, the firm foundations of a mother/son relationship are impossible to bridge.
The show has matured well. The text hasn’t become less important because the gay movement has moved on in leaps and skips in the last 30 years, indeed, the message of Torch Song Trilogy, is as important and meaningful now, as it was in 1982, albeit for different reasons. In 1982 when the play transferred to Broadway the gay community was just learning about AIDS; 30 years on the LGBT community in 2012 is in the midst of a civil movement towards equality. It’s stories like Torch Song Trilogy, that remind us, that sometimes it’s the little conflicts that win the bigger campaign.
The creative team have done wonders with the set, cleverly creating 3 spaces from one device, and successfully constructs the right environment for this 1980’s drama.
As it turns out, I loved the film, my memory fully unfuzzed, it was the wine that was terrible.
Torch Song Trilogy is playing at the Menier Chocolate Factory until 12 August 2012. Tickets are £25 – £29.50 (concessions available). To book call 020 7378 1713 or visit http://www.menierchocolatefactory.com