Simon Hench has got it all - or so it appears - in Simon Gray's darkening comedy, now enjoying a 30th-anniversary revival. This stars Richard E Grant in a rare stage appearance. Casually elegant yet spasmodically pedantic, Grant's Hench is an Oxbridge golden boy-turned-publisher looking forward to a serene morning at home.
Strolling round his des res in Islington, he stops to dust his favourite Wagner LP with amusingly punctilious care. The day will not, however, go according to plan, with constant interruptions from pushy and increasingly angry lodgers, old chums and relatives. In a way, it's payback time for this superficially decent and happily married man who is, in fact, otherwise engaged, being emotionally disconnected and not recognising that his perfect life could easily unravel.
The trouble is that the central character is dramatically tricky, often just passively listening, and Grant's disappointing performance - directed by Simon Curtis - is largely a glazed, awkward blank. He's great at bits of comic business, not least his double-take when one tête-à-tête turns topless, but for long stretches nothing is registered. Oh for Simon Russell Beale's recent, brilliantly nuanced performance in The Philanthropist, playing Christopher Hampton's intellectual who can't fully engage.
Still, Grant's supporting cast are admirable, including Anthony Head as a splendidly seedy, boozy and bigoted arts journalist; David Bamber as the creepily obsessive blast from Hench's past, and Amanda Drew as his brittle, wounded wife. Gray's period piece has explosively funny moments and strong twists, plus the first and surely most poignant use ever made of an answer-machine on stage. At its best, this is a sharp portrait of sexual decadence and masked scorn among the supposedly liberal intelligentsia who were - back then - riding high. KB
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