This week I saw the captioned performance of ‘The Pride’ at the Trafalgar Studios with my wife Joanna. I had been really looking forward to seeing this play for a long time, and I knew that this Jamie Lloyd production had been well received with excellent reviews. It is the third play in the four-run play of the ‘Trafalgar Transformed’ season of plays there.
Ever since I watched the first Jamie Lloyd production there of ‘Macbeth’ earlier this year, my first ever captioned performance, I have really enjoyed going to the theatre again and watching his plays, which have universal themes, but are often acted in a surprising and different way. They always seem to make you challenge your preconceived ideas and assumptions about things, which I suppose is what watching good theatre is all about. I am so glad that I can enjoy these wonderful plays with Joanna on equal terms through live captioning, which I think offers an amazing experience for deaf and hard of hearing people.
When we arrived at the theatre, we met Christine Hathway, the Volunteer Manager from STAGETEXT there in the foyer with another volunteer. They were there to talk to people about captioning and were handing out mini-flyers in order to increase awareness of it. It was good to see them there and Joanna and I enjoyed having a chat to them before the play.
When we went inside to take our seats we were disappointed to see that the caption unit had been placed really high above the stage, so that we would have difficulty seeing it from our seats in Row D unless we really craned our necks upwards. It would be like watching Wimbledon tennis, having to constantly bob our heads up and down from the captions to the stage. We spoke to Laura, the Deputy Manager of the Trafalgar Studios, about this, who quickly moved us and all the other deaf and hard of hearing people there to seats much higher up where we were able to see the captions at eye level.
Laura was brilliant changing our seats like this so quickly, so that we were able to comfortably enjoy the performance with a good view of the captions. I realise how important it is to make sure you are in a good position to view the captions. Laura and the Trafalgar Studios staff really take this seriously to make sure that they have good accessibility. It is one of the main reasons why I really love going to watch a play there. Laura is really helpful and acted quickly to address our concerns and relocate us.
The play was written by Alexi Kaye Campbell in 2008 and is basically the story of a love triangle between two men, Philip and Oliver, and a woman, Sylvia. There are two stories happening within the play – the first set in 1958 and the other one set fifty years later, in 2008. The story keeps switching between these two simultaneous stories set in different time periods throughout the play.
Although this idea of two different plots and time periods seemed confusing to me at first, somehow it seemed to work. In the 1950s story, Philip is married to Sylvia, but he is having a secret affair with Oliver, a writer. In the present day story, Philip is openly gay and having a complicated relationship with Oliver, who is a promiscuous tortured soul. The modern day Sylvia is Oliver’s best friend.
I think that the 1950s plot seemed to work better and be more convincing somehow. Philip was living in a totally different society then where people were not open with their homosexuality, and he is much more repressed. He is facing an inner turmoil, trying hard to suppress his gay feelings for Oliver and to save his fragile marriage to Sylvia. I also think that the role of Sylvia, played by Hayley Atwell (who was in ‘Captain America’), is much stronger and more convincing as the 1950s wife rather than the modern happy-go-lucky best friend. There is a particularly awkward but very poignant scene where 1950s Sylvia has discovered her friend Oliver’s special pen in her marital bedroom and she confronts him about it as she suddenly realises what has been going on. This scene really plays to her superb acting as the deceived heartbroken wife.
Some of the scenes I found uncomfortable and shocking to watch, but I think that the play is incredibly well written with very sharp dialogue. I think that the central theme of the love triangle and how attitudes to homosexuality have changed over the last fifty years was meant to be edgy, controversial and thought-provoking.
I also find it ironic that despite the fact that we now supposedly live in a more equal and tolerant society, the characters were still tortured, confused and no happier than their 1950s counterparts. Life is difficult, confusing and complex, no matter what era you live in.
There were also some humorous and entertaining moments in the play though, which lightened up the serious storyline. Matthew Horne, the actor who played Gavin in ‘Gavin and Stacey’, played three really funny cameo parts. In one really hilarious scene, he played the part of a modern day rent boy dressed as a Nazi hired by Oliver. When Oliver was trying to get rid of him as he realised he’d made a terrible mistake and Philip had walked in on them, Matthew’s character told him that there was no way he could get on the Victoria Line dressed as a Nazi without getting beaten up. The audience was in stitches.
Undoubtedly thought-provoking, controversial but refreshingly different, this is a great play. I’m not surprised it has received so many great reviews since it first opened. I’m really pleased that I was able to see this play captioned by STAGETEXT. I am really impressed with Laura and the Trafalgar Studios staff for being so responsive and efficient in moving us so quickly. It is great that they take accessibility and inclusion for all at the theatre so seriously, as it should be.
At the end of the performance, as the actors came back onto the stage and received their well-deserved round of applause, they all held up banners which said “To Russia with Love” in direct defiance of Vladimir Putin’s stance against homosexuality in Russia. I thought this was great. You should accept people for who they are and not judge or repress them. Diversity is what makes us all human beings after all.