Le Grand Mort at Trafalgar Studios
Julian Clary sparkles in Le Grand Mort, a play written for him by the late, great Stephen Clark. The two lead performances are electric, and charisma oozes from the stage in this beautiful yet disturbing production. Clary has perfect comic timing, but doesn’t act the clown, and James Nelson-Joyce doesn’t over-act his larger-than-life character.
We open with Michael (Clary) cooking dinner, monologuing about sex and death. The intimate venue is filled with the smells of garlic and chili as he flawlessly delivers a mind-bogglingly long and complex speech. Later, we meet Michael’s date for the evening, the charming yet unstable Tim (Nelson-Joyce), a young man bursting with bravado and a lust for life. Things get dangerous as they struggle for power.
Clary, a veteran of the stage in both stand-up and theatre, is funny and charismatic. Nelson-Joyce is wonderfully cast as Tim. They give the kind of performances that cause people with “normal jobs” to ask “how do you remember all those lines!?” – it is wonderful to watch. For those familiar with Stephen Clark it will come as little surprise that the piece is delivered like a poem. If all of this sounds overly pretentious, it isn’t.
There are themes of sex, dishonesty, death and power and they blend together into one uncomfortable study of intimacy. The intricate monologues are littered with pop-culture references to lust and decay and as the suspense builds the references to violence and intimacy become more and more literal.
There is no true division between audience and actors – those in the front row are on the stage, and Clary flirts with breaking the fourth wall at times, which is unsettling and entertaining. The show is an hour and a half with no break, a challenge for any production team, but it doesn’t feel drawn out. The story is told more or less in real time, with only the two leads sharing the stage and as the tension builds to a climax there is an extended scene of violence and nudity. This is a very intense play, certainly not suitable for children.
Le Grand Mort is funny, dangerous, troubling, bold and subtle all at the same time. This is not popcorn theatre, it’s art.
Photo: Scott Rylander
Le Grand Mort is at Trafalgar Studios from 20th September until 28th October 2017. Book you tickets here,