Torch Song at Turbine Theatre
Torch Song Trilogy – Playwright Harvey Fierstein’s semi-autobiographical, Tony award-winning collection of plays – has a rich and storied history. Originally separated into a few acts performed independently, the play became a single trilogy in 1981. A host of performances, revivals, one film and a revision to the original lengthy four-hour runtime later, Director Drew McOnie confidently brings his version to Battersea Park Station’s unassuming Turbine Theatre.
Kicking off the venue’s inaugural season, Torch Song is an often funny, occasionally heartbreaking look at love and loss set against the backdrop of 1970’s gay America. The story is told through the eyes of Jewish drag queen Arnold Beckoff (Matthew Needham), and each act explores different key phases in Beckoff’s life, beginning with Arnold meeting Ed (Dino Fetscher), a man grappling with his bisexuality, with whom Arnold eventually embarks in a complicated on/off relationship. The production opens with an impactful soliloquy given by the protagonist, in which he laments both his ability to love and be loved, while readying himself for a drag performance. Needham is striking on stage, portraying Arnold with the perfect mixture of naiveté, humour and melancholy. Fetscher – as the sexually conflicted Ed – also dominates the space, commanding every scene in which he features.
The remaining cast all deliver solid performances. Jay Lycurgo (in a spirited performance as Arnold’s adopted son, David) is a highlight, along with Bernice Stegers as Arnold’s mother, who, despite only appearing in the latter half of the play, delivers a memorably comic portrayal. Daisy Boulton as Ed’s wife Laurel, and Rish Shah as Arnold’s boyfriend Alan, are both also notable in their supporting roles.
Despite the humble size of the stage, with the help of some clever lighting and props – and well-placed music cues – it functions believably as the backstage of a drag club, kitchen and country home. The cast also use the space and audience to great effect, both performing directly by and often interacting with spectators.
With a slightly long running time, occasional accent slips and the odd frenetic scene change, Torch Song is far from perfect. Much like its main character though, it needn’t be.
Photos: Mark Senior
Torch Song is at Turbine Theatre from 22nd August until 13th October 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.