Theatre Review | The Pride

MADC have scored a plum script with Alexi Kaye Campbell’s The Pride, TEODOR RELJIC discovers, but does the production live up to this ambitious dissection of the development of sexual right in the UK from the 50s to the present day?

Left to right: Philip Leone-Ganado, Julia Calvert and Malcolm Galea in The Pride
Left to right: Philip Leone-Ganado, Julia Calvert and Malcolm Galea in The Pride

By its very nature, theatre is well poised to respond creatively to current and topical issues, being a ‘live’ format of storytelling that can engage with ideas and concerns with all the raw proximity of a conversation or a protest.

That said though, the pitfalls of rapidly cranked-out, didactic theatre are obvious: knocked-together pieces responding to political happenings with little time for nuance or editing don’t often augur well. A relatively recent local example was Simon Bartolo and Sean Buhagiar’s Jiena Nhobb, Inti Thobb: a well-attended and much talked about production tackling civil unions and gay adoption just when those very same issues were boiling to the forefront of Malta’s socio-cultural psyche. Well-timed and well intentioned the play may have been, and a welcome through-line to the cultural sphere in what was rapidly becoming an increasingly politicised issue.

But the end result was a bit of a loud mess: slogans replacing ideas with a soap opera story underpinning it all.

Luckily, Alexi Kaye Campbell’s The Pride takes more of a long view, and the award-winning play – first staged at Royal Court Theatre, London in 2008 – weaves in humour and heart into the drama in a way that never feels forced, managing to juggle two parallel storylines – taking place in two different time periods – with skill and grace. The MADC production, directed by Michael Mangion and staged at St James Cavalier, does a fine job of a great script, with minimal staging and solid acting from a cast made to effectively do double the work – playing different characters in different time periods.

Read more: Interview with The Pride director Michael Mangion

In 1958, Philip (Malcolm Galea) is married to Sylvia (Julia Calvert), who is charged with illustrating a children’s book by a successful children’s writer, Oliver (Philip Leone-Ganado). When Sylvia introduces the two, a strange tension develops between them, which threatens to grow into something that could tear their world apart.

Meanwhile, in 2008 (and with the cast repeating their parallel namesake roles) Philip storms off on Oliver, whose chronic infidelity is becoming impossible to manage. Comforted by Sylvia – his best friend – Oliver struggles to cope with a crushing loneliness, and negotiate the peculiar contemporary social terrain that gay people are facing in the modern world.

During last Saturday’s performance, the actors stumbled over their lines a few times – though exclusively in the 50s segment. This is a telling detail that outlines the challenges of the script: you have to be prepared to do both a period drama and a contemporary one, and give equal weight and attention to both.

But the halting delivery didn’t get in the way of the performances as a whole, and neither did it do anything to puncture the pace. For better or for worse, Malta’s theatrical ecology is well-schooled in the Queen’s English, and the Noel Coward-style 1950s segment is about as prim-and-proper Brit theatre as they come. So the thespian trio ultimately skated through, and the repressed passions on display made for quietly thrilling viewing.

But thankfully there were no such problems with the contemporary-set sequences, which moved to a steady clip and offered a bittersweet counterpoint to its more tragic counterpart.

Leone-Ganado was infectious as the more urbane version of Oliver. A journalist rather than a children’s writer, living in a world that is ostensibly more tolerant of homosexuals, Oliver is not so much a victim as a confused guinea pig.

Played with pantomime relish by Micheal Mangion – in a similar register to the other caricature-heavy cameos the play’s director also takes on – a well-intentioned but sleazy magazine editor vividly illustrated the ambivalent attitude to homosexuality we appear to be cultivating. The editor offers Oliver a job – to edit a ‘gay magazine for the straight man’, because tolerance can easily translate into marketability.

The Pride will be staged at St James Cavalier over May 8-10. Bookings: 2122 3200

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