As protests mount over Russia's anti-gay laws, it seems a good time to be reviving Alexi Kaye Campbell's shrewd, witty and deeply affecting 2008 play about the changes in attitude towards homosexuality in Britain over the past twenty years.
For if gay marriage has been legalised here since the piece was premiered at the Royal Court's Theatre Upstairs, the stepped-up persecution of homosexuals in many other parts of world underline how the fight against virulent prejudice is far from over. When the cast of Jamie Lloyd's beautifully acted production appear holding placards that proclaim “To Russia With Love” at the curtain call, the gesture has the whole weight behind it of this thoughtful and thought-provoking drama about the struggle that generations of gay men and women have had to wage in order to achieve a sense of self-worth.
Shuttling back and forth between 1958 and 2008, The Pride eloquently juxtaposes scenes that compare and contrast the terrible consequences of repression with the problems that arise from a certain idea of liberation. Sexual tension stirs under the clipped, determined brightness of the Rattigan-esque opening scene in which Hayley Atwell's Sylvia introduces her estate-agent husband Philip (Harry Hadden-Paton) to Al Weaver's Oliver, the well-travelled children's author whose books she illustrates. The guiltily attracted Philip embarks on a furtive relationship only to take refuge in destructive denial in a storyline that leads to rape and the horrors of aversion therapy.
In 2008, the names are the same but the characters are diagnostically distinct albeit connected through echoes and reverse images as the superb performances bring out. Al Weaver hauntingly captures the aching desolation of the Fifties Oliver and his idealistic quest for a life rooted in honesty and love, while powerfully communicating, in the 2008 scenes, the ironically related loneliness of a trendy, troubled freelance journalist whose addiction to anonymous sex has caused his partner, Philip, to leave him. Mathew Horne is very funny in a number of comic cameos, including the wide-boy editor of a lad's mag who, tellingly, wants Oliver to play up to the straight readership's envy of the promiscuous gay life-style.
The modern Philip is the least well-drawn of the characters, but Harry Hadden-Paton is painfully good at suggesting the increasingly desperate masquerade of the would-be Fifties model husband. Best of all is Hayley Atwell – a feisty, faithful but not supinely supportive friend in the modern scenes and absolutely piercing as the sensitive wife who has to wake up to the bleak barrenness of a marriage based on a lie.
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