Canary – TNT theatre review

Jonathan Harvey has made no secret of being gay, but at the centre of his new play Police Chief Tom has spent a lifetime denying his sexuality.  Now the tipped-off paparazzi are baying at his door and, although his neurotic daughter initially relishes the media attention, the threat of  imminent exposure compels him to look back over his past and realise that he has spent almost fifty years lying,  not only to those closest to him but also to himself.

Harvey uses Tom’s story to illustrate the changes in attitude to homosexuality over the last half century. The ground has been covered before – Tony Kushner’s epic Angels in America and the more recent The Pride and Holding the Man immediately come to mind.

But Harvey’s writing is never dull. From London to Liverpool, he intersperses scenes of outrageous humour (homophobic Christian campaigner Mary Whitehouse wanting to “shine light into murky tunnels” as porn-wielding gay activists in drag and Ku Klux Klan outfits disrupt her 1971 Festival of Light) and surreal flights of fantasy (Tom’s time-travelling wife, Paula Wilcox, floating through the air in a fur coat) with poignant moments of truth (young Mickey whirling joyously in his mother’s wedding dress, love letters fluttering down like avian omens at Tom’s wedding) and unflinching reminders of the not so distant past (barbaric aversion therapy and the fatal toll of AIDS).

Philip Voss is excellent as the troubled older Tom and great comic value as both Mrs Whitehouse and the camp, moustachioed violinist who offers runaway best friends Mickey (Ben Allen) and Russell (Ryan Sampson) a temporary roof over their heads but inadvertently bequeaths a far more momentous legacy. And Kevin Trainor leaves a lasting impression as Billy, left to take the rap when young Tom chooses marriage and his police career over forbidden happiness with his first and only true love.

4/5

Hampstead, Eton Avenue, NW3
020 7722 9301
hampsteadtheatre.com
Until 12th June
£15-£25 (under 26’s £10)

Review:Louise Kingsley