Pros: Stylish performances from the three-man cast add real edge to this compelling story.
Cons: The play could have used an extra 30 minutes to give the characters more depth.
I arrived unfashionably early at the Old Red Lion so had time to absorb the atmosphere in this wonderfully traditional pub. The walls are lovingly adorned with a timeline detailing its 600-year history and photos of luminaries known to have been customers; Karl Marx, Charles Dickens and George Orwell, to name but three, all prove the venue is a magnet for creativity and free thinking.
It would then seem natural that The Local Stigmatic should be revived there on the fiftieth anniversary of its premiere. Written by Heathcote Williams, the play tells of two sociopaths, Graham (William Frazer) and Ray (Wilson James), who spend their time gambling on the dogs, debating, bickering and reading the newspaper gossip columns. A chance meeting with a well-known actor, David (Tom Sawyer), brings out the worst in them as they begin to torment and manipulate him.
The play is undoubtedly a sixties creation, as cultural references clearly date the piece: the walls of the set are covered with pictures of the Beatles, Twiggy and other icons from the period; scene transitions are marked with a soundtrack featuring The Kinks and The Who. Having said that, Graham and Ray remain characters we can all recognise, albeit in a much milder form. In the 1980s, we would have called them liggers, chancers who hang around the right pubs so they might bump into a celebrity. Today, they appear in reality TV shows and write gossip columns. This familiarity gives the piece added impact as they search for a life less ordinary, glamour and connections with people that matter. David, with a modicum of notoriety seems to fit the bill; he becomes the focus of their adulation at first, but later target for their disgust and hatred.
The piece is well-written and reminiscent of John Osborne, Harold Pinter and Joe Orton in their pomp. It also benefits from a charismatic, talented cast. James as Graham has tremendous presence, dressed in black, with shades and wavy, quiffed black hair, looking like James Dean. Frazer as Ray is equally compelling, acting as the weary but dependable companion to Graham. Sawyer completes the ensemble as the nervous, gullible David.
Overall, the play is well packaged and can barely go wrong, drawing on the most stylish of all decades. Williams is never afraid to write silence into the script, with the actors carrying the mood with expressions and gestures whenever dialogue is unnecessary. However, further development of the storyline is sacrificed for a painfully short 60 minute play, which suffers a little from its brevity.
Author: Heathcote Williams
Director: Michael Toumey
Producer: Tom Beckwith Phillips/Melies Productions
Box Office: 0844 412 4307
Booking link: http://www.ticketweb.co.uk/artist/the-local-stigmatic-tickets/970043
Booking until: 28 May 2016