Sometimes a good play becomes a great one by virtue of its production. That’s very much the case with this amiable queer love story, because Tell Me Straight is raised a notch by a couple of brilliant performances. Since one of the performers is also the writer, I hope he doesn’t take this assessment as faint praise – the show is very much a success, and very much worth seeing.
The story concerns Him (Paul Bradshaw) and his ambling quest for love, which leads him on encounters with an array of “straight”, “curious” and “might-be-bi” guys. Why Him’s pool of options doesn’t include any forthrightly gay men isn’t clear, but there’s enough differentiation between his suite of would-be lovers to deliver a varied nest of characters with each of whom Him has a different journey.
Taking the lead in his own play, Bradshaw is instantly in command of the intimate Chiswick Playhouse (the lovely theatre formerly known as The Tabard). He’s an actor of incredible subtlety and nuance: something about his eyes is magnetic, luring you into the character’s inner thoughts and feelings, effortlessly mixing an appealing diffidence with absolute control of the narrative.
Playing half a dozen roles opposite Bradshaw is the equally impressive George Greenland. The part is a gift for any actor wishing to showcase a variety of accents and other performing skills. Greenland has a few costume changes to aid in identifying his different personas, but I scarcely think he needs them, so adept is he at conveying character in physicality, inflection and demeanour. Of his posse, my favourite is Lee, an uncertain guy who Greenland inhabits with a beguiling sweetness that I found really moving.
A word of warning (which I feel I may have issued before): the marketing image for the show depicts a topless young man, but the play itself features not a scrap of flesh. In fact, an early flashback scene features a young Him refusing to remove his shirt, which I thought was a precursor to a body consciousness theme, which could have been interesting if followed up. But no, the poster represents not the play but the assumption that gay men will only go to the theatre if enticed there by the promise of hot young hairless fantasy tottie.
(Clears throat and dismounts from high hobby horse…)
While Bradshaw’s script may not be bringing much that’s new and bold to the table of queer drama, it is nevertheless delightfully funny, fluid and engaging, and the play zips along under the tight direction of Imogen Francis. But it’s Bradshaw the performer, along with Greenland, who raise the production to a triumph. This really is exceptionally fine acting, and I am as confident as I can be in this tricky industry that both these young performers have very bright futures ahead of them.
You may be wondering if Him’s travails through a bisexual cornucopia lead him to a happy ending? My sincere advice is to go along and find out for yourself.
Written by: Paul Bradshaw
Directed by: Imogen Francis
Lighting Design by: Chloe Stally-Gibson
Sound Design by: Roly Botha
You can find out more about this show and Paul Bradshaw on our recent podcast interview with him here.
Tell Me Straight plays at Chiswick Playhouse until 26 February. Further information and booking via the below link.