Staircase by Charles Dyer. The Little, Southwark Playhouse, London SE1 to 17 July 2021. 3*** William Russell.

Back in 1966 Staircase drew the town. Charles Dyer had had a hit some years before with Rattle of a Simple Man and this new two hander play was an RSC production directed by Peter Hall with Paul Scofield and Patrick Magee – the RSC was incredibly fashionable then and both Scofield and Magee were actors at the top of their game. Today it looks depressingly old hat as in the years since gay plays have proliferated and what was daring and bold then – it is about the relationship between two hairdressers, one of whom is facing a charge for importuning, as they squabble about their closeted condition. It was funny as the one time actor Charlie postures around and his hair loss affected partner Harry responds with buckets of common sense, which does not help, but it is also sad. At the time it opened the door on a world not hitherto seen on stage and caused the Lord Chamberlain lots of problems which did nothing to reduce the public interest in it of course. It was duly filmed by Stanley Donen with a script by Dyer which opened the action out and had Richard Burton and Rex Harrison doing their best to create two gay men but in effect camping it up – the publicity shows them and above their heads the word Ooops. It was sold as a kind of gay farce rather than a serious comedy about love and a relationship in crisis and duly flopped.
The performances in this revival directed by Tricia Thorns are good but sabotaged in the Little by the Covid restrictions. It is a square room with three rows of seats on three sides. The seats are walled in with plastic dividers on groups of two or one and these dividers have demolished the room’s acoustics so that speeches which demand clarity get muffled and Staircase is a play in which the language matters. Worst affected in John Sackville as Charlie, the one time actor facing a serious charge and the possible arrival of a daughter from a long gone marriage, now ion a panic about what could happen. He has a resonant voice and the acoustic does not like it. Paul Rider as his lover Harry, owner of the barber’s shop, fares rather better. The other problem is this is a play written to be seen in a theatre where the audience looks at the action and when transferred to one in which the audience is on three sides it all goes wrong. Lines which should be directed at everyone get sent to one side for a start. Director Thorns says Covid rules have been obeyed so the actors never touch and so on but she should have kept mum. She simply draws attention to what one would have noticed anyway. Sackville and Rider deserve all the plaudits going but the play is one that really has had its day and now is just an old curiosity possibly worth revisiting, possibly not.
Harry: Paul Rider,
Charlie: John Sackville.

Director: Tricia Thorns.
Set Designer: Alex Marker.
Costume Designer: Emily Stuart.
Lighting Designer: Neill Brinkworth.
Sound Designer: Dominic Bilkey.

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