THE central premise of Alexi Kaye Campbell’s award-winning debut play from the Royal Court, receiving its UK regional premiere, is the contrast in the gay experience from 1958 to 2008.
The Pride alternates stories 50 years apart played out by people with the same names. In the earlier scenario Philip is an estate agent married to Sylvia, a former actress turned illustrator who is working with Oliver, a children’s book author. The Oliver of the 21st century is a journalist whose lover, Philip, has just walked out and Sylvia is the best friend who provides a shoulder to cry on.
We see that while gay people (and society in general) have left behind those days of repression, the sexually liberated world of today carries its own problems.
Nevertheless the real drama of the play occurs in the era when homosexuality was still illegal and socially unacceptable, while there is lighter tone to the contemporary scenes of uninhibited comedy with some very funny lines served up by former actor Campbell (he once appeared at the Crucible in The School for Scandal) and orchestrated by director Richard Wilson, a master of comedy himself.
The Fifties dialogue has the clipped and stilted tone familiar from movies of those buttoned-up days but full of innuendo and hidden meaning. Sylvia’s confession that she “felt something” in the atmosphere at the first meeting between her husband and friend is full of portent.
Daniel Evans brings a quiet and dignified desperation to the Fifties Oliver who thinks he has found a soulmate in Philip for the first time in his life rather than the sordid pleasures that seemed to be all there is on offer. “I felt that I had a pride,” he says.
“A pride for the person I was.” Alas, Philip, disgusted by his sexual attraction, dashes those hopes. By contrast, the anguish of the other Oliver about his addiction to casual sex at the expense of relationships is much more flamboyant.
Jamie Sives seems more comfortable as the present day Philip but that is in no small measure because his earlier counterpart is clearly so uncomfortable in himself. He’s a cold fish which makes his sudden eruption into violent sexual passion so shocking.
Claire Price occilates from a naive (but not that naive) Fifties housewife to a wordly 21st woman, hardly a fag hag, but a lively loyal friend. The moment when she challenges Oliver about his betrayal is a beautifully judged scene of unexpressed emotion. Her presence makes this much more than just a gay play. It’s a study in loneliness and also the connectivity of experience.
The excellent cast is completed by Jay Simpson who has fun with some comic incidental characters.