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Velvet – Above The Stag review by Ifan Llewelyn


We’re living an era of reckoning for powerful men. Their abuse of power has come to light in spectacular fashion, with victims of abuse finally given a chance to speak of their mistreatment. Though the issue has primarily centred around the sexual abuse of women, the abuse of gay men has also formed part of the conversation with accusations emerging against Kevin Spacey and director Bryan Singer. Tom Radcliffe’s Velvet at Above The Stag Theatre tackles the issue head-on from the perspective of a struggling young gay actor. Radcliffe delivers an evocative semi-autobiographical one-man show that vibrates with authenticity.

A boisterous Tom storms onto the black and white stage, lapping up the audience’s applause. “I’m a superstar because I’m super at being a star” he exclaims, repeatedly. It quickly emerges that he is in fact auditioning for this “superstar” role as a voice interrupts his performance. Far from being the successful superstar he first appears to be, he’s actually just a fresh-faced actor desperate to break into the business. We follow him in his struggle, as he seeks success by any means at his disposal.

“The show is slick and engaging”

Having downloaded Grindr to promote the gay play he’s appearing in, a conversation with an allusive high-profile casting director peaks his interest. Dangling the prospect of Hollywood success in front of the young actor, and a role in an upcoming Star Wars film, his demands become increasingly compromising. Ratcliffe’s writing is careful in its escalation of what’s at stake in their conversation, and the end-point feels authentic. The manipulation of the young actor is devastating and all too familiar. The show is slick and engaging, with perhaps the most well-thought-out depiction of a text conversation we’ve seen on stage for a while. 

Velvet review
Velvet at Above The Stag. Photo by Lidia Crisafulli. Review.

Radcliffe’s evocation of the characters that he encounters is truly impressive. Whether it’s an awkward conversation with his long-suffering boyfriend over dinner at the Shard, or a post-press night tear-down from his mother, these scenes are delicious. Flickering between characters, he skillfully presents these interactions with both nuance and humour. They’re delightfully relatable and his distinct characterisations are a theatrical feat.

What makes the piece truly refreshing is that Ratcliffe’s depiction of himself isn’t all that favourable. He takes advantage of his boyfriend, he’s somewhat complicit in his own exploitation and he prioritises his career over everything else. 

Velvet is running at Above The Stag Theatre, Vauxhall SE1 7TP until 27th October. AboveTheStag

Above The Stag Theatre – LGBT-focused Theatre!


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