Pros: A fascinating and funny play in a tight, intimate venue, hidden under the Vauxhall Arches.
Cons: For some, even if the subject matter doesn’t put you off, the rumbling of the trains overhead might just.
Some plays just make no sense on paper. Who sits down thinking, “I know, let’s turn my biography of a barely known nineteenth-century homosexual prostitute into a play, and better yet, let’s make it a musical”? Thankfully, though, that seems just the thought process that Glenn Chandler went through. And, thankfully, Chandler’s pedigree allows him more of a hearing than others might have received. After all, this is the man who wrote, amongst other things, Taggart.
The Sins Of Jack Saul is not for the easily offended, but what would you expect: Jack Saul was a male prostitute who somehow became embroiled in two major sex scandals in the late 1800s, and supposedly wrote a sensational erotic memoir of his life as well. As it is based on a biography, it would have been an easy decision to make this a straight (no pun intended) play exploring Saul’s life, but for Chandler, “it had to be a different animal completely.” So instead we see him trying to justify his life to the Devil, who prefers to be known as Fergus. It’s a great way to allow the play to show the major moments of Saul’s life, while at the same time giving room for debate as to the rights or wrongs of his actions.
The Sins Of Jack Saul is on a par with adult pantomime. There is a splattering of colourful language, and a few song and dance routines that might make your grandmother blush. The first half closer, Pornography, speaks for itself and is up there with Avenue Q’s The Internet Is For Porn as a song to get your foot tapping before you realise what you are tapping along to. And Poses Plastique, the stand out from the second half, is classic slapstick, from the judge doing her shimmies to the barristers, witnesses and accused acting out female erotic performers. A sight to behold given that all are male.
In fact, it’s not just this that gives the evening a pantomime feel. There is a playfulness throughout the whole show. I can’t remember being offered a shot glass of Guinness at a play before, especially by Satan himself, while the cast raise their own glasses to the Dublin Seven. Nor have I been greeted entering a theatre by a nun, or been harangued by a pimp at the interval.
Ultimately the play works because all its elements combine well, and because the tight script, fantastic acting, wonderfully creative directing, the staging and the music all hit the spot perfectly. In the confines of this small space under the Vauxhall Arches, the cast make use of every available inch. And the laughs are regular even as the darkness of the subject is revealed, and for that, much praise has to be given to all involved.
Author: Glenn Chandler
Music: Charles Miller
Director: Steven Dexter
Musical Director: Arron Clingham
Producer: Peter Bull
Booking Link: http://www.abovethestag.com/whatson/
Booking Until: 12 June 2016