A powerful Torch Song marks opening of London’s newest theatre

10/09/2019

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Torch Song (by Harvey Fierstein): The Turbine Theatre, London, 6.9.2019. (CSa)

Matthew Needham (Arnold) and Dino Festcher (Ed) in Torch Song
(c) Mark Senior

Production:

Director – Drew McOnie
Designer – Ryan Dawson Laight
Lighting designer – James Whiteside

Cast:

Arnold – Matthew Needham
Laurel – Daisy Boulton
Ed – Dino Fetscher
David – Jay Lycurgo
Alan – Rish Shah
Ma – Bernice Stegers

Electricity is once again being generated from (or more precisely next to) the decommissioned Battersea Power Station – specifically Drew McOnie’s high voltage production of Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song. This paired down version, which played to great acclaim on Broadway last year, has been chosen to mark the opening of the new Turbine Theatre in the heart of one of the South Bank’s most recent commercial developments. The intermittent rumbling of overground trains can be heard over the Turbine’s small brick cellar auditorium and pocket handkerchief stage. This gives Torch Song, Fierstein’s semi-autobiographical account set in pre-AIDS New York in the late 1970s, an added gritty authenticity.

Torch Song tells the story of Arnold, lovesick, wise-cracking drag queen whose stage names include Bertha Vanation and Virginia Ham. Yet behind the make-up and the brittle banter, Arnold (outstandingly well played by stick-thin Matthew Needham) is touchingly vulnerable, yearning for requited love from the right man. ‘I want more out of life than meeting a pretty face and sitting on it.’

Play One, entitled International Stud, is set in a gaudily lit Greenwich Village gay bar of the same name. There, Arnold encounters Ed, a brawny, charming bisexual teacher with a Freddie Mercury moustache, played with searing honesty by Dino Fetscher. Their fortuitous meeting does not stop Arnold seeking hot sex in the club’s dark back room, where, in a scene both horrifying and hilarious, he feigns bored indifference at the receiving end of a simulated act of anonymous penetration. ‘A thing of beauty is a joy till sunrise’, he later quips.

Arnold and Ed’s passionate affair meets an obstacle when Ed informs Arnold that he is going to marry open-minded Laurel (Daisy Boulton). This triggers a romance between Arnold and street-wise model and former hustler Alan (Rish Shah). The play’s momentum slows and credibility is stretched a little in the second part. Tellingly entitled Fugue in the Nursery, we see the four characters interweaving with one another – for the most part in a huge bed – during a weekend together at Ed and Laurel’s country place. Somewhat improbably, the straight Laurel is happy to countenance sharing her husband-to-be with his former gay lover without so much as a complaint.

Play Three – Widows and Children First – set several years on in Arnold’s neat New York apartment, is the strongest and funniest of the Trilogy. Arnold is now a single father raising 16-year-old gay teenager David (Jay Lycurgo in a striking professional debut) when Arnold’s larger than life mother or ‘Ma’  (the magnificent Bernice Stegers) comes to visit from Florida. In dialogue bristling with Wildean epigrams of the Yiddish variety, Stegers, with perfect comic timing, gives us an East Side Lady Bracknell. Ma kvells, kvetches, nudges, and dispenses her maternal advice like unwanted chicken soup. ‘You want a meaningful conversation?’ she asks her tormented son, before answering with a shrug ‘Do what I do, talk to yourself. It’s the only way’. In contrast, Fierstein’s kindly characters talk to us directly from the heart, giving this compassionate 1980s drama a fresh and compelling relevance.

Chris Sallon

For more about Torch Song at The Turbine Theatre click here.

Comments

Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! Surrey’s Grange Park Opera in 2020 __________________________________
  • NEW! Highgate International Chamber Music Festival’s Beethoven 249 in November __________________________________
  • NEW! The Leeds Lieder Concert Series 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Anjali Dance Company Genius UK Tour 2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Edinburgh Usher Hall 2019-2020 Orchestral Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Lyric Opera of Chicago’s 2020 Ring Cycles __________________________________
  • NEW! Ex Cathedra’s 50th Anniversary Season in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Geneva Grand Théâtre in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! 2019-20 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden __________________________________
  • NEW! City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Zurich Opera House in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! English National Opera in 2019-2020 and New Artistic Director __________________________________
  • UPDATED! ENB in 2019-2020 and Opening of their New London City Island Home __________________________________
  • NEW! Classical Music and Other Events at the Southbank Centre in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Cleveland Orchestra in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Classical Music at the Barbican in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Met: Live in HD in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Carnegie Hall 2019-2020 Season Highlights __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Free Review Summary Newsletter

    Search S&H

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! English National Ballet’s 70th Anniversary Gala Performances – 17 & 18 January 2020 __________________________________
  • NEW! Martin Yates and RSNO to give world premiere of The Future by Ralph Vaughan Williams __________________________________
  • NEW! CONDUCTOR HERVÉ NIQUET INTERVIEWED ABOUT GRÉTRY’S RICHARD, COEUR DE LION __________________________________
  • NEW! Abay Kazakh State Opera and Ballet Theatre at the London Coliseum on 17 November __________________________________
  • NEW! SOPRANO ANGELA GHEORGHIU IN CONVERSATION WITH MICHAEL COOKSON __________________________________
  • NOW REVIEWED! MATTHEW BOURNE’S ROMEO AND JULIET IN CINEMAS FROM 22 OCTOBER __________________________________
  • NEW! CELLIST JOHANNES MOSER IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN __________________________________
  • CHORUS MASTER STEPHEN DOUGHTY IN CONVERSATION WITH ROBERT BEATTIE __________________________________
  • REVIEWED! Ron Howard’s Pavarotti in Cinemas 13 July (Preview) and Nationwide (15 July) __________________________________
  • MULTI-FACETED MUSICIAN JOY LISNEY IN CONVERSATION WITH ROBERT BEATTIE __________________________________
  • ‘MUSICAL MAGIC’: AN INTERVIEW WITH VIOLINIST HENNING KRAGGERUD __________________________________
  • CONDUCTOR THOMAS SANDERLING IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • A Q&A WITH ITALIAN BARITONE FRANCO VASSALLO __________________________________
  • Archives by Week

    Archives by Month