Prejudice and pride span the decades in a poignant, heartfelt and thought-provoking drama that juggles past and present imperfect.
Attitudes may change for good or ill, but fragile relationships, the pain of unspoken desire, loneliness, and the hurt of forgiveness are timeless in Alexi Kaye Campbell’s The Pride, which starts off a national tour at Brighton straight after scoring West End success at the stylish Trafalgar Studios.
Written in 2008 the play has lost none of its bite and indeed Jamie Lloyd’s thrilling direction and a perfect cast make this a must-see revival.
The 1950s story has many of the marks of a Coward or a Rattigan play, but the design for living is one of repression, heartbreak and sexual tension as an estate agent tries to come to terms with his guilty attraction to a camp writer working with his illustrator wife.
In the present the contemporary but noticeably different characters have the same names and one can spot the subtle links that bind them through the years, with the more liberal views of the age not reducing the underlying struggles.
Mathew Horne is probably the most famous face in the company, and is tremendous in his three unappealing cameo roles, first as a Nazi uniform-clad rent boy in the present – tart in words as well as actions - then as a tough lad mag editor, and finally as a stern doctor in the past showing the least heart of all.
He is certainly not allowed to steal the show, though. Al Weaver is remarkable as Oliver – gliding effortlessly between the past and the present characters, one discovering truths about himself and daring to be different in a world that would prefer him silent, sensing ghostly ‘oracles’ from the present, with the other of porcelain sensibility, clutching at others for support in the face of lost love. It is a bravura performance of huge intensity.
There is strength and sensitivity too from Harry Hadden-Paton as Philip, charming and haunted in the 50s, cheated on and heartbroken in the Noughties, but in both eras tormented by the actions of others.
And Naomi Sheldon has depth and wisdom as Sylvia, betrayed and broken in the past, loyal and filled with hope in the present. You could not hope to see such a finely tuned cast.
The production is achingly painful to watch, yet there are plenty of light touches to break the tense atmosphere. While it could so easily be just another gay play, it displays a warmth and understanding of issues that go beyond the obvious, with light and dark, happiness and sadness, and not necessarily any clear cut or easy conclusion.
It is a great start for the Theatre Royal’s year, a play of contrast and compassion, tortured yet utterly compelling.