The Tower Theatre performing at the Bridewell Theatre
UK Amateur première
Tuesday 10th - Saturday 14th December, 2013
Directed by Jane Dodd
I've never bought into the distinction between 'amateur' and 'professional', at least on the London Fringe. Performers are lucky if they can barely cover expenses anyway; while many in the best so-called 'amateur' companies have had 'professional' training. The only difference, it seems to me, is in levels of pretension.
Take the Tower Theatre, for example, one of the best and longest-established (I first saw them in 1965) 'amateur' companies. Inevitably in this kind of set-up standards will vary, especially at the rate the Tower churns 'em out (17 shows in the pipeline!) in order to give everyone something to do. However, they excel in small-cast productions of adventurous plays where the most talented performers get a chance to stretch themselves. Their recent Endgame was outstanding.
The Pride is certainly adventurous. Campbell cleverly interweaves two stories separated by fifty years, each featuring Sylvia, Oliver and Phillip though as different characters in each. In 1958, Philip is an estate agent married to Sylvia, who is illustrating Oliver's children's book. Philip and Oliver are instantly attracted, which leads to a brief fling which Oliver would take further, but for Philip's self-denying repression. Philip seeks aversion therapy to cure his homosexuality. Sylvia, caught in a life of lies not of her own making, leaves.
In 2008 Oliver is a sex addict. Philip, his more stable and monogamous partner, can't cope with this, and leaves him. Oliver, who really loves him but suffers from a kind of split personality, cries on the shoulder of his best mate, Sylvia, who is sucked into his neediness until she too rebels.
The play is fascinating in that it points out both the differences and similarities between the two eras. Grinder may have replaced towpaths and toilets, but self-oppression is alive and well, in that Oliver's sexual obsession is just as much a product of feelings of worthlessness as Philip's refusal to face up to who he is. The role of women has its parallels too : Sylvia the exploited wife becomes Sylvia the girlfriend, exploited in a different way, until she strikes for independence.
Campbell's writing stylistically mirrors the two eras. The 1958 sections are written in a wordier, stiffer style which might have come out of a lesser Terence Rattigan play; they combine articulacy with emotional reticence; the 2008 parts are altogether freer, both in the dialogue and the ability to voice feelings. Clearly written by someone of great talent, The Pride nevertheless displays some of the weaknesses of a first play. There are loose ends; what happens to 1958 Philip after his 'therapy' is unclear; 2008 Oliver's resolution of his conflicts is altogether too easy, in a feelgood ending which isn't entirely earned. I would have liked to see some kind of equivalent positive psychotherapy to balance and parallel the earlier, appalling shrink.
The production, and particularly the performance of Oliver, suffers from a little stiffness which may disappear during the run. The two Olivers need sharper differentiation physically and vocally. Karima Chellig as the two Sylvias achieves this effortlessly, and is very moving, in the 1950s scenes in particular. Equally outstanding is Michael Bettell in a series of cameos to which he brings wit, energy and sharp delineation. I will not easily forget his chilling aversion therapist, with his graphic (and historically accurate) descriptions of what the chemical castration actually consists of.
This kind of powerful affirmative theatre could almost have been produced by Gay Sweatshop in the mid-1970s. It's good to see that Gay Theatre, which has been in something of a crisis, still has a role; only now it can be mounted by, and directed towards, anyone.
Review by Peter Scott-Presland for Broadway Baby
During the run of The Pride, we were privileged to have a visit from the author, Alexi Kaye Campbell. After the performance he joined in a Q and A session with the audience, the cast and director Jane Dodd.
"It means a lot to me that The Pride is being performed for the first time by an amateur company in Britain and I wish the Tower Theatre Company production all the very best for the performances." (Alexi Kaye Campbell)
Photography by Ruth Anthony
Cast Oliver : Iain Handyside
Philip : Andy Murton
Sylvia : Karima Chellig
The Man/Peter/The Doctor : Michael Bettell
Director : Jane Dodd
Set Design : Jude Chalk
Costume Design : Lily Ann Coleman
Lighting Design : Alex Dobson
Sound Design : Ed Lewis
Stage Manager : Saffron Miller
Assistant Stage Manager : Jessica Hassan
Lighting Operator : Alex Dobson
Sound Operator : Emily Carmichael
Set Construction : Keith Syrett, Michael Bettell,
Jude Chalk, Lughwam Ashgedon, Richard Davies,
Wendy Parry and members of
the cast & crew
Publicity & Marketing : Ruth Sullivan, Ann Blumenstock,
Peter Jones, Victor Craven
Andy Murton has performed in three previous Tower shows : he played Adam Trainsmith in Comic Potential, Clov in Endgame and Freddie in The Deep Blue Sea. He also appeared at the Bridewell in 2012 with SEDOS in The Man of Destiny swapping between the roles of Napoleon
and Lieutenant on alternate performances.
Iain Handyside studied Modern History at the University of St Andrews.
Past roles include Ko-Ko in The Mikado, Nazi Youth in Cabaret and, for the Tower, Young Siward in Macbeth, a Chorister in 5/11 and two parts in Her Naked Skin. Iain works as an Assistant Artist Manager for a music agency and is enjoying seeing how it works from the artists'
This is Karima Chellig's third Tower production. Her first
was a small part in Calendar Girls playing the
glamorous but morally questionable beautician
Elaine, and she followed that by playing Paula in Mrs Klein.
Karima first studied drama at Arts Educational School London,
continuing with a short course at LAMDA. Other roles outside
of the Tower have been in Vinegar Tom and in a musical set in Africa for Black History month at Stratford Circus.
Michael Bettell's acting career started in 1973 at the the ripe age of 4 when his brother Paul cast him as the
Housewife in his short film Gone with the Windows. He joined the Tower in 2010 and has since worked on about 40 Tower productions
in one capacity or another. He is absolutely delighted to be taking his third acting role for the Tower, following his recent appearances in The Mystery of Edwin Drood and Comic Potential.