Review of Charles Dyer's 'Staircase' by Two's Company at the Southwark Playhouse
This review was written on behalf of North West End UK and was originally published here.
Staircase is a revival of late English playwright Charles Dyer’s play from the late 60s that explores the relationship between an ageing gay couple who own a barber shop in Brixton, London. Set in a time when homosexuality was not fully decriminalized in the UK, the play shines a light on the various social pressures and anxieties suffered by gay couples who often had to resort to living an undercover life to stay clear of the law.
Presented by Two’s Company, who are known for their revivals of texts from the previous century and staged at The Southwark Playhouse, this production is a striking glimpse into the lives of Charles and Harry as they struggle to get past personal differences, estranged family relationships and peculiar circumstances to be more accepting of their own and of each other. Whilst Charles was arrested in a pub while sitting on a man’s knee and awaits court summons for public indecency, Harry has his own troubles – his hair is rapidly falling out, a disaster for a hairdresser. With conversations imbued with sharp-witted banter, mocking comments and the occasional hurtful remark, they are each other’s only refuge.
“Staircase” by Charles Dyer – a Two’s Company and Karl Sydow production in association with Tilly Films. Southwark Playhouse, 23 Jun – 17 July, 2021
John Sackville delivers a compelling performance as Charles, balancing the character’s growing indifference (bordering on contempt) for society’s expectations of him and his unusual ‘lifestyle’, and an inferiority complex to his younger partner who, despite his many idiosyncrasies, has still held on to this good looks and a full head of hair. As the older and wiser of the two characters, Sackville offers an assured presence and calmness to the duo’s relationship, matching Harry’s frenetic energy that often spirals into long rants about nothing and everything. This is precisely where Paul Rider shines as Harry, bringing to life the character’s obsession with his glory days, his humorous quips serving as a cover for his deep-seated anxiety about the upcoming trial and a meeting with his daughter from a previous hetrosexual partnership. In any two-hander show, it’s not just the two actors’ individual performances that carry it through, but equally the chemistry shared between them. Staircase serves as a stellar example of this, with Sackville and Rider playing off each other’s energy and viciousness. The set design by Alex Marker and costume design by Emily Stuart complement the time and location where the action plays out. The direction by Tricia Thorns opens up the text to the audience and allows the performers to elevate the tension with simple movements and actions whilst still following all COVID protocols, the performers do not touch each other or share the same props. In any other relationship-driven story the absence of touch and physical proximity between the characters may feel strange, however Staircase manages to circumvent this.
On a completely unrelated note, to the production, a striking experience of the night was the unique socially distanced seating arrangement at The Southwark Playhouse which placed perspex screens between different bookings. Whilst it felt unusual and eerie, it still maintained the somewhat intimate proximity of sitting next to a stranger at the theatre. I struck up a conversation with someone sitting next to me, which I normally wouldn’t if there was an empty seat next to me, and we wondered whether this was indeed the future of the theatre as the industry anxiously awaits to return to 100% audience capacity following the government’s pilot program for events which is now delayed following the new delta variant.
To summarize, Staircase is a gripping show that tugs at your heart with its strong performances. Whilst its themes of homosexual oppression and abandonment from the 60s may not be directly relevant to today’s day and age, Staircase serves as a gentle reminder to be more accepting and generous as humans. It’s a call for a society wherein one can be comfortable in their own skin and live as they want, without judgement or prosecution.
Playing until the 17th July with more information and tickets at https://www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/show-whats-on/staircase/
Reviewer: Gaurav Singh Nijjer
Reviewed: 26th June 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★