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Review: Staircase, Southwark Playhouse

For the first time in London in more than 50 years, Two’s Company and Karl Sydow, in affiliation with Tilly Films, provide audiences with the opportunity to see the 1960s comedy, Staircase. Written by the late Charles Dyer and originally directed by Peter Hall, the show had success in the UK before transferring to Broadway, where it also delighted American audiences. Directed by Tricia Thorns, this two-hander is set in Brixton, 1965. The location is Harry’s (Paul Rider) small barber shop. Working with him is his lover of 20 years, Charlie (John Sackville). During the course of one Sunday…

Summary

Rating

Good

This two-handed comic revival about forbidden gay love in 1965 is perfect for Pride month. Well-placed camp humour counterpoints the impact of having to hide who you love, and an unremitting history of struggle.

User Rating: 3.36 ( 5 votes)

For the first time in London in more than 50 years, Two’s Company and Karl Sydow, in affiliation with Tilly Films, provide audiences with the opportunity to see the 1960s comedy, Staircase. Written by the late Charles Dyer and originally directed by Peter Hall, the show had success in the UK before transferring to Broadway, where it also delighted American audiences.

Directed by Tricia Thorns, this two-hander is set in Brixton, 1965. The location is Harry’s (Paul Rider) small barber shop. Working with him is his lover of 20 years, Charlie (John Sackville). During the course of one Sunday evening, an erratic Charlie becomes hysterical about a looming court appearance. He is charged with dressing as a female in public and of propositioning a police officer, and now suspects he is facing a 90-day jail term. At the time the story is set, homosexuality was illegal and condemned by the public.

Charlie’s apprehensions lead both men to brood over wider issues encompassing their forbidden relationship, so they start to dissect and dismantle. For example, Harry is hurt that Charlie won’t introduce him to his adult daughter. Alongside the campness and comedy, throughout is the sadness of those unable to love openly because of what friends, family and the law will do.

Rider and Sackville work well together, portraying the relationship between the two men with real dimensionality. Rider’s portrayal of Harry is like putting on a comfortable jumper: for me, it was recognisable and familiar. He gives Harry backstreet grit; a male Ena Sharples, hardened and stoic. Contrasting this against Sackville’s portrayal of neurosis and theatrics, the roller-coaster interaction between the two is engaging.

The set by Alex Marker successfully captures the time period and the quintessential barber shop: black and white chequered flooring; red barbering chairs; blue painted walls; a scattering of photographs depicting handsome male celebrities of the era. Right from the start, the pre-show music (Dominic Bilkey, Sarah Weltman) helps to transport the audience into the mid-60s with shoulder-swaying classics like ‘Just One Look’ (The Hollies) and ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ (The Animals).

Two’s Company specialises in reviving old and forgotten works and no doubt the LGBT+ community will be grateful for their bringing this piece of history to the stage during Pride month. It’s a reminder of how far they have come in gaining some measures of equality and freedom, but also of the work still to be done. This month, for example, Hungary passed a law banning LGBT+ content in schools. Staircase is the perfect reminder that the freedoms enjoyed today can never be taken for granted.

Written by: Charles Dyer
Directed by: Tricia Thorns
Produced by: Two’s Company and Karl Sydow in association with Tilly Films

Staircase is playing until 17 July. It will also be available to livestream on 3 July. Further details and booking via the below link.

About Darren Luke Mawdsley

Theatre addict since the age of nine, Darren is now 43 and Head of Drama at a school in East London; he reviews as often as he can. A proud northerner and an honorary East Londoner, Darren has a particular interest in Queer Theatre.