by Jonathan Harvey.
Hampstead Theatre To 12 June
then English Touring Theatre tour to 3 July 2010.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat at 3pm & 9 June 2.30pm.
Audio-described 5 June 3pm.
Captioned 8 June.
Post-show Discussion with speech-to-text transcription 8 June.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7722 9301.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 26 May.
Sexual identity across half a century assembles into a richly rewarding drama.
In the week Jonathan Harvey’s play arrives at Hampstead (its several Merseyside characters indicting its origin at Liverpool Everyman) it’s been reported that in the liberalising 1960s – where Harvey’s action is part-set – the Civil Service refused homosexuals promotion to higher positions for fear of their being blackmailed. Then a Liberal Democrat government minister resigned following revelations about expenses, rooted in fear of his sexuality becoming known.
It’s not often events give a play such immediate cries of Relevance. For denial of sexuality is the core of Canary’s story, along with an institution rallying to protect its own. It’s only decades later, as journos and paparazzi crowd outside, senior policeman Tom admits he’s gay – though his wife Ellie, married as part of his cover-up, must have known all along.
As a young copper, in a police family, Tom had been saved from exposure by the Force, turning his lovers’ meeting into an alleged assault, thereby denying his lover Billy, and distorting his life. Later, Tom denied his gay son, inventing a road accident to account for his disappearance.
So, sixties, eighties and modern-day come into the picture, in a saga mixing reality with fantasy elements, in the manner of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. Puzzling references, hanging plot-ends eventually fall into place, while Harvey also manages great tonal variety. There’s the intrigue of Tom’s ultimate exposure, the sadness of his initial discovery and capitulation to the reality of keeping his job, involving as it does denying the reality of his sexual self.
There’s the brutality of the aversion treatment society deals to Billy, with its own element of hypocrisy, comedy as Margaret Thatcher and a minister argue over AIDS-funding, and a fiesta of protest as gay rights campaigners disrupt Mary Whitehouse’s reactionary Festival of Light, before this celebratory high-point quietens around a character bed-bound with Kaposi’s Sarcoma, sure sign of AIDS.
Long linked as a director to Harvey’s dramas, Hettie Macdonald has cast well and ensures each element receives due weight throughout an evening as strong on plot-interest (less what happens next than how it fits together) and serious thematic exploration.
Mickey: Ben Allen.
Older Russell: Sean Gallagher.
Younger Tom: Philip McGinley:
Melanie: Jodie McNee.
Younger Russell: Ryan Sampson.
Billy: Kevin Trainor.
Older Tom: Philip Voss.
Ellie: Paula Wilcox.
Director: Hettie Macdonald.
Designer: Liz Ascroft.
Lighting: Colin Grenfell.
Sound: Jason Barnes.
Assistant director: Dan Ayling.