For the third play in his Trafalgar Transformed series, Jamie Lloyd has re-directed his own original staging of Alexei Kaye Campbell’s two-tier gay drama The Pride, first produced to great acclaim in 2008 at the Royal Court where Kaye Campbell’s partner Dominic Cooke is Artistic Director. The play also had a successful outing off-Broadway with Andrea Riseborough and Ben Whishaw.

Fluidly blending stories of a 1950s marriage in which the husband has suppressed homosexual feelings and a modern break-up set against the background of a gay pride celebration, you could see this as a hybrid of Terence Rattigan and Kevin Elyot.

It’s the Rattigan-esque tale which dominates: Hayley Atwell and Harry Hadden-Paton play a middle class couple, he a sober-suited accountant, she an illustrator, working with a discreetly gay writer of children’s fiction portrayed with a well-measured mixture of containment and edgy neurosis by Al Weaver. At a casual dinner, the men hold each other’s gaze a fraction too long and the resultant liaison has violent and painful consequences for both of them.

It’s beautifully handled by all three actors. Hadden-Paton is exemplary in his searching and sensitive depiction of an inner conflict between feelings and propriety, and there’s real dramatic tension, particularly in the scenes between the men and subsequently between Atwell and Weaver when she finds his fountain pen in her bedroom. It’s such a fine depiction of fifties storytelling and discreetly illicit love that it makes you want to watch Far From Heaven or The Hours again.

The actors nip nimbly between eras, changing character merely by passing through a door in Soutra Gilmour’s tarnished mirror of a set. In the contemporary story, Hadden-Paton and Weaver are the couple, just broken up after a year and a half, and Weaver is weeping on Atwell’s shoulder, although within 48 hours of the departure of his lover, he’s also on his knees in front of an unconvincing Nazi rent boy, played for comic relief but perhaps a fraction too broadly for the piece by Matthew Horne.

Horne has two far better cameos during the play: a lads’ mag editor who offers Weaver’s freelance journalist the chance to write titillating gay stories for his straight readership, and a psychiatric aversion therapist treating Hadden-Paton’s fifties affliction in one of the most harrowing scenes.

The modern story is harder to identify with or evoke much sympathy for the characters – there’s no tragedy or disease in the background, and little is predicated on their outcomes. Weaver plays a particularly self-indulgent and unendearing queen, and you automatically side with the more rational and romantic Hadden-Paton in their split, but Atwell has a powerful moment when she accuses Weaver’s Oliver of over-filling her life and living room with his prioritising and self-pitying presence, perhaps implying an authorial view of how gay men treat their women friends.

I was surprised to hear Atwell on Woman’s Hour the next morning suggesting that this was a 1958 and 2013 story since, apart from a few hastily-inserted references to Grindr, the dialogue doesn’t feel completely current. Very little stales so fast as contemporary gay drama, and if there has been some updating, it seems a missed opportunity not to include any reference to the most recent political changes among characters for whom it would clearly be a focus: for example, to raise the stakes of the modern break-up and provide balance with the 50’s situation by setting the discussion of Oliver’s serial infidelities within the context of an actual gay marriage.

Date reviewed: Thursday 15th August 2013
Image © Marc Brenner

One Stop ArtsOriginally published on One Stop Arts.