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Above the Stag’s latest production is a musical based upon the turbulent life of gay playwright Joe Orton and his troubled relationship with lover Kenneth Halliwell.

It begins with an enthusiastic and wide-eyed Orton attending his first day at RADA where a nervous but charming Halliwell is one of the first to welcome him to the fold of the new, great city. Both parts are beautifully played by actors Richard Dawes (Orton) and Andrew Rowney (Kenneth Halliwell), with the uber-cute Dawes – a rather complimentary version of Orton, aesthetically speaking – imbuing his playwright with verve, charisma and confidence, whilst Rowney fleshes out Halliwell with eminently believable nuances of neuroses.

A really rather ingenious set incorporates a host of different doors into its walls, with the walls themselves papered in pages from Orton’s diaries. It suggests nothing so much as like being inside a mind, as the talented supporting cast flit in and out of the myriad entrances like thoughts in consciousness, but the twist being that it could be either Orton’s or Halliwell’s.

Orton’s diaries, and his entire writings in general, are equally as pivotal to both characters. Andy Holton’s design also displays a certain fluidity as those walls morph into a public toilet for one of the best songs of the show, a vivacious ode to the endangered art of cottaging.

However, for the most part, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the musical aspect wasn’t hugely complementary to this show’s theatrical essence. Not that the songs were themselves bad, they seemed well-constructed enough and were delivered with gusto, but the story was so strong and the characters so interesting that it was almost frustratingly distracting that suddenly they burst into singing in the middle of a significant scene.

But I freely admit this is only my own personal, possibly Scrooge-like, viewpoint, and many others may adore Orton’s story as formulated through the prism of musical theatre.

Ultimately, whether you are a fan of musical theatre or not, there is more than enough fascinating material in this emotionally engaging portrayal of Orton and his lover, to give you a night more than well spent at the theatre.

 

• Above the Stag, Arch 17, Miles Street, SW8 1RZ
Running until 4th May. Tues-Sat 7.30pm, Sun 6pm. £18. 

www.abovethestag.com

 

Photos: Derek Drescher

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