Staircase ★★ Southwark Playhouse | June 23 - July 17, 2021


Some plays can be unjustly neglected. Sadly The Staircase by Charles Dyer isn't one of them. Could it have fared better in other hands? To be honest one fears not, although a lighter touch might have elicited at least a smattering of laughs amid the prevailing gloom. Originally presented by The Royal Shakespeare Company in 1966 with Paul Scofield and Patrick Magee and later filmed with Rex Harrison and Richard Burton bizarrely camping it up, The Staircase has never achieved classic or even cult status. Shot through with bitterness and self-loathing, we get an unremittingly negative lament on the futility of life, and especially life as a homosexual: the work is set in a time when it was still illegal to dress in women's clothes in public – let alone have same-sex relationships. Given Alex Marker's excellent barber shop set, we felt that director Tricia Thorns missed too many opportunities to give us believably sympathetic characters or comedy to heighten the tragedy. Of the two actors playing barbers, Charlie and Harry, Paul Rider's turbaned Harry was marginally the more successful whilst John Sackville, playing formerly married and self-obsessed Charlie, became irritating with his camp darting around the shop. Neither man was portrayed as having any likeable traits. An obvious more modern touchstone is Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi in Vicious. With live theatre finally emerging from months of darkness it is a shame that a better vehicle couldn't have been found for this obviously talented and adventurous team. However, like the Penrose stairs, this impossible staircase regrettably leads nowhere.

Rated: ★★

Reviewed by D.S.J.
Photo by Phil Gammon.

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