by Thomas Hescott.
Ovalhouse 52-54 Kennington Oval SE11 55W To 2 February 2013.
Runs: 1hr 10min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7582 7680.
Review: Carole Woddis 31 January.
Superb – it should be seen, nationwide.
To young gay men, the hard won social, political and cultural battles of fifty years ago must seem like far-away history. But this week a news report noted that although the testing for HIV and Aids has increased, the incidence of infection has not. At the same time, the Church’s continuing ambivalence towards homosexuality and the impending Parliamentary vote on gay marriage highlights just how obsessed and conflicted British society remains.
Coincidentally, the Ovalhouse in south London is celebrating its 50th anniversary. For five decades this modest circular nissen-type venue opposite the Oval cricket ground has served as a magnet for theatrical experimentation, an alternative voice, sometimes crying in the wilderness, but a constant champion of what came to be termed the `Counterculture’.
Typically, the Ovalhouse is marking its half-century not with fanfares but five new plays commissioned to reflect the dramatic changes that have unfolded over five decades. Right on cue comes an extraordinary tour de force by actor Matthew Baldwin in Thomas Hescott’s The Act.
A vivid testimony to a time before homosexuality had been legalised, when acts between consenting adults could still lead to blackmail and imprisonment, it’s notable for Hescott’s clever interlacing of diverse material but also and especially for Baldwin’s charismatic performance.
It’s rare to find someone who can deliver songs, parliamentary speech and confessional dialogue with such ease and assurance. But Baldwin, dressed in smart lounge suit and tie, sitting on the one prop – a urinal – is a sublimely gifted performer, who can switch from Noel Coward acidity to Dirk Bogardish charm and Kenneth Williams camperie with the merest twitch of an eyebrow.
For those who didn’t live through those times, Hescott’s Parliamentary extracts will prove illuminating (the UK was once again slow in catching up with the rest of Europe); for those who did, his fictionalised personal stories as described by a Derbyshire accountant seeking `companionship’ in London, Edna Mae, a Soho drag queen, and a public school educated Londoner in therapy will provide an ironic if painful portrait of the way things were – and to some extent, still are.
Performer: Matthew Baldwin.
Director: Thomas Hescott.
Illustrations: Gavin Dobson.
Musician: Tim Saward
The Act opened at Ovalhouse London on 29 January 2013 and ran to 2 February 2013.