THE TAILOR MADE MAN
by Claudio Macor
The White Bear Theatre, 138 Kennington Road, London SE11 4DJ to 25 November.
Tues-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sun 4pm.
Runs 2hr 15 mins One interval.
TICKETS: 0333 012 4963.
Review: William Russell 11 November.
We need to talk about Kevin
William Haines was a star of the silent screen who successfully made the transition to sound in a series of roles as a brash young man who fooled around. He did so in real life, being a promiscuous homosexual from his early teens. After a series of jobs he arrived in Hollywood winner of a talent competition, started as an extra, was groomed by the studios and set up home with another Hollywood wannabe – Jimmie Shields – with whom he was to live for the rest of his life. Macor’s play is beautifully staged and has been directed to within an inch of its life by Bryan Hodgson, although he really should get his cast to stop shouting their lines. The theatre is small and although there is a lot of very well chosen background music the racket some of them create, particularly the women, is appalling.
That said, Mitchell Hunt as the hunky, cheeky, butch Haines and Tom Berkeley as the willowy devoted Shields are not offenders. They convey the strength of their relationship perfectly, one basically childish, intent on having his own way, relying on his looks, the other devoted to his partner and willing to let him have his fun as long as he did not bring it back home.
Haines, however, fell foul of Louis B Mayer after he was caught in a YMCA bedroom by the Vice squad with a sailor he had picked up in a favourite cruising spot. His star was, in any case, on the wane and Mayer sacked him. It was a warning to all who followed, and over the decades the studio disguised the sexual proclivities of their stars ruthlessly.
It could have been a Hollywood tragedy but in fact Haines, as Shields, himself an interior decorator, had always known, was at heart a talented designer and together they set up in business designing lavish homes for the stars. They were a huge success. Gay interior decorators are OK, gay leading men are not as many men were to discover in the years to come. The play could hardly be more topical in the new morality currently holding sway where the bosses are proving to be every bit as ruthless as L B Mayer, a chilling performance from Dean Harris, was with Haines. He locked his films in the studio vaults, and made sure no other studio would employ him. But Haines proved both victim and survivor.
The archives were acquired by Ted Turner, and Haines films are available today – he starred with all the leading ladies of the time from Crawford to Pickford and counted Marion Davies, William Randolph Hearst’s mistress, among his friends. This is a handsomely staged, skilfully directed – the theatre’s limitations are quite severe – well acted
picture of past times that are still with us. It deserves a longer run in a larger venue.
William Haines: Mitchell Hunt.
Jimmie Shields: Tom Berkeley.
Howard Strickling: Edwin Flay.
Louise B Mayer: Dean Harris.
Marion Davies: Yvonne Lawler.
Victor Darro: Henry Felix.
Carole Lombard/Pola Negri: Rachel Knowles,
Hoper/Thalberg/Roderick: Peter Dewhurst.
Director; Bryan Hodgson.
Set & Costumes: Mike Lees.