It takes a strong production to keep an audience spellbound in their seats for a marathon hour and 20 minute first half, especially one played out on a stark, minimalist black set. Such was the effect of Chelmsford Theatre Workshop’s latest offering, The Pride.
Alexi Kaye Campbell’s debut work is a thought-provoking, sometimes disturbing but ultimately heartening account of changing values and attitudes to homosexuality in the 50 years between 1958 and 2008. The parallel stories of the same three characters set in two different timeframes is not an easy tale to bring to the stage but the confident, insightful directing of Ria Milton and Rachel Curren, leaves us in no doubt as to where we are in the action. Not that there is a lot of action, particularly in the first half. The story and characterisation largely develops via lengthy episodes of dialogue which are seemingly more fitting for a radio play than a theatre production. However, tight direction and sensitive and appropriate delivery from all members of the small cast manages to hold the audience’s attention with virtually words alone. It also means the action when it comes is all the more shocking and brutal.
As the conduit in the lives of Oliver and Philip in both periods, Sally Rawlins as Sylvia is convincing as at once the frustrated but resigned 1950’s wife, oppressed but powerless when forced to acknowledge her husband’s latent homosexuality and the loyal but frank friend and confidante to both former lovers 50 years on. In 2008, she is not afraid to speak out about needing her own life too.
Lewis Schaefer is a suitably charming and slightly naïve Oliver in the two stories. He is equally adept at portraying a stilted, metaphor heavy admission of feeling for the 1950s Philip as he is of delivering a direct, emotional outpouring befitting the ‘selfie’ generation of 2008.
Max Taylor Saunders provides a similarly competent performance as Philip throughout but particularly brings the 1958 character to life, portraying the confusion and frustration of the gay man forced by social pressure to remain in the closet, well. Saunders also makes the best of the role of the 2008 Philip, although it appears as if the character is not as well developed in the script.
Special mention has to go to the fourth member of the tight-knit cast. Chris Green portrays three nominally supporting roles, which each have a crucial impact on the lives of the main characters, be that a heel clicking Nazi officer, a melodramatic Lad Mag editor or a sinister, unsympathetic doctor.
The Pride is an intense watch, mirrored by the simple black set with just a few well chosen props to denote scene and time changes in an ingenious and unobtrusive way. After an ultimately heartwarming ending, which hinted that lessons may have been learned from the past, it was a shock to get up from one’s seat!
Michelle Jacobs | October 2018 | The Pride continues at Chelmsford Theatre Workshop until Saturday 3rd November 2018