Old Red Lion Theatre, London – until 17 August 2019
Richard is an art dealer living a Bohemian life in the early 1980s – his London bedsit is cluttered with quirky finds from Portobello Market, he fills his time with music, wine and women. When years of not taking care of himself eventually take their toll on his body, writer Phil Young wants us to feel sorry for Richard but his misogynistic and abusive behaviour in this 1982 play makes this difficult to achieve.
Richard is unquestionably the centre of this three-hander. It’s always all about him, and the other two characters – women – are there to fulfil his needs and wants, both dramaturgically and as a character. Jane is his long-suffering girlfriend; Richard recently moved out of her house so he could have more space but they are still together. Two weeks later, he begins dating Thomasina, a self-assured blind woman, because a long-term devoted partner isn’t enough for him. They both mother him before and after he loses his sight due to complications arising from his Diabetes. In return, he dismisses their own feelings, concerns and needs. His cheating is never addressed.
Despite the problematic script that seems to think women only exist to serve men, this production is refreshingly inclusive. Thomasina is played by a visually impaired actor (Gillian Dean), and director PJ Stanley draws on the expertise of access consultant Amelia Cavallo and intimacy director Enric Ortuño to ensure the show is inclusive and safe. Audio description is used throughout as a narrator, as well as indicating how much time passes between scenes. The AD script is thoughtfully curated and well-integrated into the pacing and transitions.
The three actors are excellent. Gareth Kennerley, despite how despicable his character is, captures the intensity of Richard’s narcissism and neediness. Rakhee Sharma is a sharp and cutting Jane who fights for an equally balanced relationship with Richard. Dean’s chemistry with Kennerley is sweet and intimate.
The performances are the strongest feature of this production, along with its access provisions. However, this progress fights against the dated script that normalises violence towards women. It’s a strange play choice for a new company and one that doesn’t sit comfortably in a world finally coming to terms with how women are treated.