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Staircase

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
4 stars
In a low-rent London barber’s shop one increasingly frantic Sunday,
Charlie is awaiting a knock on the door from a police-man serving him a
summons. Tomorrow, the daughter Charlie sired twenty years previously
but has never seen is coming to visit. Keeping Charlie company is
Harry, his much put-upon gentleman friend and dirty little secret. As
the pair bitch and spar their way to a gin-soaked impasse, Charlie’s
increasingly long dark night of the soul goes beyond his initial tough
guy bluffness to suggest this might just be the last act for the
ultimate old ham.

Playwright Charles Dyer might not be a household name of post-war
British theatre, but as Andy Arnold’s rare revival of his 1966 curio,
camped-up like bilio on film by Rex Harrison and Richard Burton,
testifies to, he took Pinter’s grotty demotic to a new level of
fantasy-fuelled meta-narrative that predicts Kiss of the Spiderwoman.
The testy co-dependence between Charlie and Harry is laced with
deliciously baroque one-liners that flit between cruelty and pathos,
with Benny Young’s Harry even suggesting that Charlie, played by Arnold
himself, is “one great tube of none-sequiter.”

So grubbily evocative of its age is Dyer’s play that you can’t help but
think of Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell, Joe Meek and Dirk Bogarde’s
blackmailed barrister in Victim, all of whom were destroyed one way or
another by the criminalisation of homosexuality. But Staircase goes
further. Charlie’s second name, it seems, is Dyer, and his flamboyantly
christened acquaintances from his life on the stage remain equally
close to home. Even Harry’s role isn’t clear in a life-time of denial.
Like the man said, “God help us all and Oscar Wilde.”

The Herald, February 28th 2011

ends

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