2016 marks the 50th anniversary of Heathcote Williams’ The Local Stigmatic, and to mark the occasion Michael Toumey is directing a production at the Old Red Lion Theatre this month.
It is a dark play, looking at fame, humanity & jealousy. In Pinteresque style, it is more of an exploration of the mind than a story, as such. It is designed to make you think, and certainly achieves that in some style. The play revolves around Graham & Ray, a pair of friends who seem a bit of an odd pairing at first. However, as events take a sinister turn, both of their true natures are revealed, showing them to be two parts of one, sociopathic whole.
There is an ongoing theme of greyhound racing; it seems to be a big interest for Ray & Graham. Cleverly, it’s also symbolic on a number of levels. The friends are perennial losers (at the dogs & in life) – and you get the feeling that there’s an element of ‘dog eat dog’ between the pair. If they’re not taking someone on together, they’re fighting each other. The greyhound track is also a perfect analogy for the events of the play: Ray & Graham as the dogs, and their target is the hare. By the end of the play they’ve brushed that target aside, and are prepared to start again – just like the track resetting, going round in endless circles…
As you enter the theatre you are immediately transported back to the mid-60s. From the look to the sound, it’s just perfect. The soundtrack is a brilliant selection of 60s classics that fit the mood to a tee – from The Kinks to The Velvet Underground. It also has an authentic 60s look: roll necks & leather jackets, leather Chelsea boots, band posters on the wall…
There is a great deal of physicality, balanced out by still moments of reflection & tension. Here the music is key; the songs are ideally chosen for their mood & emotion, and that of the moment. Tom Kitney’s lighting also assists, with stark red light highlighting moments of anger. There is one moment, however, where a complete (momentary) blackout is required to allow one of the cast to leave the stage without being noticed – or perhaps they could be left lying on the floor rather than having to move at all.
The warm weather on the night really amplified the sense of oppression that’s built up by a combination of all the aspects of the production.
The cast of three are exceptional.
Tom Sawyer, as David, is the target of the friends’ amusement. He naïvely believes that he has encountered nice, genuine fans of his work – but by the time he works out that they have an ulterior motive to befriending him, it’s too late. Sawyer’s silent resignation is affecting as, outnumbered, he accepts his shocking treatment.
Graham’s sociopathic nature manifests itself as full-on anger. Wilson James manages to portray him as the brute he obviously is, whilst also making the most of the humour that is available to him (notably surrounding Hermosa of Selsdon). Graham is clearly not completely stupid, shown excellently as he & Ray “chat up” David in the pub. Both assuming different personalities for his benefit, bottling up their resentment just enough for it to go unnoticed.
William Frazer captures Ray’s quiet animosity down to the slightest flicker in his eye. We very rarely see Ray lose control, but when we do it raises the question of just how far he is prepared to go in pursuit of his own entertainment. Frazer also has an impressive sense for comedy – his delivery is immaculate, and the range of voices Ray puts on is very well done. In particular when Graham asks him to do his Douglas Fairbanks to make a phone call.
My verdict? A mean and moody affair, laced with dark humour – an impressive, oppressive production of a play that asks important questions.
The Local Stigmatic runs at the Old Red Lion Theatre until 28 May 2016. Tickets are available online and from the box office.