Review: “The Staircase”

How great it is to go to out the theatre again….the Southwark Playhouse, tucked away, behind the Elephant and Castle, buzzes with excitement. Its neon sign beams out a warm welcome to all.

This revival of Charles Dyers play, “The Staircase” (last performed by the RSC in 1966), explores the 20 year relationship between devoted, long suffering Harry ( Paul Rider) and waspish, egocentric Charlie (John Sackville). A relationship blighted by the fact that (until the Sexual offences Act of 1967) homosexuality was illegal.

The play is set in Harry’s barbers shop in which our couple work. They live above the shop with Harry’s arthritic mum.

As the audience enter the auditorium we are immediately transported back to the 60’s by Alex Marker’s crisp, authentic set and evocative music.

Both men are dealing with immediate personal problems: Harry is losing his hair (not a good look then, for a Barber) and Charlie is about to be prosecuted for sitting on a man’s knee in a pub. The lovers bicker and banter throughout the play, their camp repartee  cruel but often amusing.

Director Tricia Thorns deftly draws out the underlying shame and stigma that homosexuals like Harry and Charlie experienced during this era and the impact it had on their relationships, Harry and Charlie’s being underpinned by bitterness, self-disgust and denial.

It felt strange to laugh out loud at the hilarious comments the couple  exchanged, whilst feeling simultaneously saddened by the unfairness of their life experience. The (socially distanced) audience was totally immersed in this comedic tragedy. I chatted with some older men in the interval who had lived through similar experiences in their own lives. “The Staircase” is a salutary reminder of our recent history. Not to be missed!

The Staircase runs at the Southwark Playhouse until 17 July.

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