Theatre Review: THE PRIDE – Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester


Funny and thought-provoking, Alexi Kaye Campbell’s THE PRIDE examines the changing attitudes to sexuality and the fear of being unloved

When Alexi Kaye Campbell’s play THE PRIDE first opened at the Royal Court Theatre in 2008, it won a handful of awards, including an Olivier. 10 years on, the play has lost none of its power as Green Carnation Company demonstrate in their latest revival.

Alternating between 1958 and 2008, THE PRIDE explores the seismic changes in attitudes to sexuality that have taken place in Britain over the past 60 years. When children’s illustrator Sylvia (Joanna Leese) invites writer Oliver (Simon Hallman) over to meet her well-heeled estate agent husband Philip (Gareth George), there is an immediate attraction between the two men. But this is 1958 and Philip, who is both drawn to and repelled by Oliver’s advances, is aware that his whole identity may be at stake should his true feelings be known. Fast forward to 2008 and the names may be the same but this time Philip and Oliver are in a relationship, which has been damaged by Oliver’s addiction to anonymous sex, the pair constantly turning to their friend Sylvia for support.

Balancing the repressive 1950s with the more liberated, yet still imperfect, present, director Daniel Jarvis presents the two halves of THE PRIDE well in his revival, stripping back as many staging elements as possible to really hone in on the characters. Frankie Gerrard’s simple set design effectively shows the movement in time while Joseph Robert’s sound and lighting design creates a shifting, ethereal feel to the production, paying homage to the subtly queer cinema of filmmakers like Todd Haynes and Tom Ford.

Much of THE PRIDE’s success lies in the clipped repressions of the 1950s. There is a distinct Terrance Rattigan feel to the way the polite encounters are suffused with sexual tension and nothing in the present-day scenes matches the horror of the rape scene between Philip and Oliver, or when the guilt-wracked Philip seeks aversion therapy to “cure” his physical attraction to other men. These scenes feel much more original than their 21st-century counterparts – which are much more risqué in their content – yet still fascinating because of the well-drawn characters.

Simon Hallman carries much of the emotional weight of the play as Oliver, a man desperately lonely in the first section of the play and wildly promiscuous in the second, while Gareth George is equally excellent as Philip, beautifully capturing the emotional cost of a man afraid of his true nature, his shame turning into aggression at the click of finger.

Elsewhere, Joanna Leese is strong as Sylvia, the scene in which she confronts her husband’s lover particularly standing out, while Alex Thompson provides comic relief in his three sharply drawn cameos, playing a fetish rent boy, a laddish sports editor and a psychiatrist, all with aplomb.

There are some pacing issues here, the first half of the play running for almost an hour and a half, while the second half flies by. A couple of scene changes could also be slicker, particularly in the second half, interrupting the overall flow of the piece.

That said, this is so much more than a play about being gay. It is an insightful, human and funny account about the fear of being unloved, of loneliness and of never being able to be yourself. The result is a bold and brave drama that speaks to us all.

4 out of 5 stars

THE PRIDE runs at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester until 20 October 2018