Staircase, Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Monday 07 March 2011
Fifty-odd years after it was written, Charles Dyer's blackly comic two-hander finally arrives in Scotland.
Andy Arnold, the Tron Theatre's creative powerhouse, directs and stars as Charlie, a waspish, washed-up-actor-turned-hair-trimmer, bouncing off the walls of a Brixton barber's shop. His long-term partner, Harry, folds his hands and rearranges his hangdog face, absorbs the verbal barbs and indulges Charlie's self-aggrandising fantasies.
In 1966, Peter Hall directed Staircase for the RSC, with Paul Scofield and Patrick McGee. But a 1969 film, in which Rex Harrison and Richard Burton asserted their heterosexuality by overcooking the camp, was a disaster and buried the piece. Which is a shame because in this shortened, one-act version, it's a sparky bit of work, a telescoped Long Day's Journey into Night with swivel chairs.
Arnold's Charlie, chest puffed up beneath his smart waistcoat, deflates as his story unravels. The 20-year-old daughter he has never seen is visiting in the morning. But before she does, a policeman (shown in silhouette behind the door, this is a slim-budgeted show) delivers a summons for Charlie. As the two men bat these impending bombshells back and forward over tea, Swiss roll and neat gin, the tawdry truths of Charlie's past emerge.
Harry, the veteran Scottish actor Benny Young, shuffles in slippers, hides his shameful bald head beneath a bandage, and walks on eggshells as Charlie, whose theatrical glory days involved regional panto and a commercial for duffel coats, goes from self-pity to rage to rare flashes of gruff affection. Young physically embodies Harry's dreary life of repression in a back-street clip joint with a bullying lover and arthritic mother in the attic.
The ending is a bit shaky; Young has a wobble and so does the set. But Staircase is still a timely reminder of what the non-swinging corners of the 1960s really looked like.
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