Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Theatre review: The Glass Supper

It's a common storytelling setup to have a seemingly happy domestic situation reveal its demons when unexpected guests intrude, but they don't always explode in quite such a surreal way as this: In The Glass Supper, Marcus (Michael Begley) and Colin (Owen Sharpe) appear on the surface to be the picture of a "respectable" gay couple. Together for 20 years and recently married, they've moved from London to a remote cottage where writer Marcus can work in peace, and the two of them can - at least in theory - give up smoking, drink and drugs. There's some tension in the air as Colin has so far failed to quit any of them, but it's nothing compared to what happens when a couple they met the year before on a gay cruise (of the ocean liner variety) turn up on their doorstep on the way to this year's holiday.

A swaggering cockney businessman with his own chain of gay saunas, Steven (Michael Feast) and his alarmingly young boyfriend Jamie (Alex Lawther) have brought along Wendy (Michelle Collins,) a fag-hag tottering in high heels and badly-chosen outfit, who turns out to be more than just a recent acquaintance.

The Glass Supper has the setup for a classic comedy of awkwardness, but it turns into something much darker and creepier. Writer Martyn Hesford wrote the TV drama Fantabulosa about Kenneth Williams, and there's this kind of old-school camp here too, particularly in the extraordinarily fey 17-year-old Jamie, that suggests a different take on gay life than the cosy one Marcus and Colin present. Taken in conjunction with Steven's barely-suppressed violent streak, the affectedly exaggerated, camp seductiveness Lawther brings to Jamie contributes to a downright sinister tone.

I wondered at times if Hesford is a fan of Pinter and Philip Ridley, both of whom, in different ways, evoke a spirit of menace that's hard to pin down. The Glass Supper isn't really like either of those writers' work, but Abbey Wright's production does share this sometimes incredibly uncomfortable sense of something being horribly wrong that you can't quite put your finger on.

The second act, in which the threatened violence of the first breaks out into reality, doesn't feel quite as focused, and the religious metaphor Hesford sprinkles throughout the story is vague and frustrating as to its meaning. But overall The Glass Supper is interesting and worth a look, a production that raises as many laughs through discomfort as it does through humour.

The Glass Supper by Martyn Hesford is booking until the 26th of July at Hampstead Theatre Downstairs.

Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes including interval.

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