by Peter Gill
The Crucible, Sheffield
Review by Georgina Brown, Mail on Sunday, 9 June 2002
For me, one of this year's undoubted theatrical highlights was Peter Gill's play The York Realist, a witty, fresh, gay love story set in Yorkshire in the Sixties, concerning a shy theatre director from London and an earthy Northern farmer, secret homosexuals experimenting with love and finding that their roots have a greater hold on them.
Gill's new play, Original Sin, goes back much further to a Dickensian, murky London to explore a homosexual society of a more arcane nature.
Alison Chitty's atmospheric, black-walled, windowless set deftly makes the point that this is a hellish, dark and dangerous underworld.
At its centre is Angel (though some call him Beauty and others call him Boy), an 18-year-old rent boy, whose vanity, insouciance, and chilling soullessness would take your breath away even if his youthful Tony Blairish good looks failed to.
Indeed, Andrew Scott's excellent performance has a disarming quality vaguely reminiscent of Joe Orton's randy Mr Sloane, which tempers the distinctly demonic edge. So narcissistic is he that at one point he even wishes aloud that he were a woman so that he might be 'inside himself'.
Angel had been a 'barefoot guttersnipe' until Southerndown, a heartless, wealthy newspaper proprietor, gave him the Pygmalion treatment, which enable him to glide through the most apparently respectable drawing rooms of London, seducing as he goes.
There's the crumbly old physician, then the sweet portrait painter whom the doctor commissions to paint Angel, then there's Southerndown's son, the aspiring writer, and the rather effete Lord Henry Wantage, who loves him with pathetic and blind devotion and whom Angel treats with shameful cruelty.
One by one he destroys them all (or drives them to their own destruction), until finally he meets a match for his own depravity.
Some of you will perhaps by now have spotted what Gill is up to. He has transposed Wedekind's rampant sex-object and prostitute, Lulu, to an all-male world.
The staging is outstanding.
Even the beautifully choreographed set-changes in which dishy, dapper men undress and dress the stage, unroll and roll up rugs, as carefully as they would disrobe themselves and their lovers, have a sensual charge.
All the while, the portrait of Angel, half naked, tantalising, ever-youthful, looks on.
Neverthless, I spent much of this rather long evening waiting for the portrait to reveal the state of Angel's inner soul, like Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray. It didn't happen, alas. I waited, too, for something which would explain why Gill had gone to all this trouble. Was it merely to show us that men are as terrible to men as men have always been to women?
He certainly makes that point over and over, especially in the brutal, murderous rape in the final scene. But the piece exists in a vacuum and fails to make connections with life as it was then or as it is now.
For all the care that Gill has taken, and in spite of some wonderful performances, in dramatic terms, this Lulu leaves a lot to be desired.
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