Seven Dials Playhouse, London – until 19 March 2022
With a lick of paint and a rejigged bar area, the Tristan Bates Theatre as part of the Actors Centre has been rebirthed as the Seven Dials Playhouse, still remaining as cosily intimate a venue as ever. And for their debut production, they’ve gone for a starrily-cast European premiere of Mark Gerrard’s play Steve.
Former chorus boy Steve is having drinks to mark his 47th birthday, but it’s not really a celebration as, though he has a son, a husband and a gaggle of close-knit friends, he’s also got a bit of an existential crisis going on, one which extends throughout the friendship group, as they all deal with the grind of getting older in their own inimitable ways (namely sexting and drinking vodka stingers).
Using a conceit of a night of a thousand Steves (several characters share the same name or variations thereon), Gerrard’s writing thus touches lightly on the ongoing issues people have in relationships, LGBT+ or not, when communication is bottled up. And sex is on everyone’s mind – conventional marriages are threatened by perceived infidelity, others are opened out to throuples.
It is entertainingly put together, and laced through with a heavy dose of another Steve – Sondheim – as every other line is a musical theatre reference of some sort or other. And whilst Gerrard captures so much of the banterish conversation of close friends, you might raise an eyebrow at the unchecked misogyny of the humour – Elena Roger, Kristin Chenoweth, Amy Adams and more all come in for a kicking (although to be fair, so does ALW).
Altogether, it doesn’t always feel like Steve has a lot to say that hits on a profound level, but there is always something gratifying about seeing LGBT+ lives presented in such an everyday context. David Ames and Joe Aaron Reid are both excellent as the central Steven and Stephen, Giles Cooper and Michael Walters offer vibrant energy as their pals and Nico Conde as Esteban is a seductively appealing recurring presence in their lives.
Plus there’s the remarkable Jenna Russell as Carrie, possibly Steven’s closest pal, always on hand to deliver reassurance and realness in equal measure, even as she deals with her own problems. It’s a fantastic chance to see so great an actress in such close proximity. Andrew Keates’ production impressively dresses the space with cabaret tables, live pianist, multiple screens and a revolve, occasionally feeling overbusy but more often elucidating this intimate world.
Running time: 90 minutes (without interval)
Photo: The Other Richard
Steve is booking at the Seven Dials Playhouse until 19th March
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‘Entertainingly put together & starrily cast’: @OughtToBeClowns on @Steve_ThePlay, featuring @semadivad @jennarusselluk & @joeaaronreid. Mate @AndrewKeates directs at the newly christened @7DialsPlayhouse til 19 Mar. #theatrereviews #OffWestEnd