Theatre Review: Gently Down The Stream, Park Theatre

Ben Allen as Rufus and Jonathan Hyde as Beau in Gently Down The Stream at Park Theatre

Ben Allen as Rufus and Jonathan Hyde as Beau in Gently Down The Stream at Park Theatre - Credit: Archant

Martin Sherman’s funny and profound take on the rapidly changing attitudes to homosexuality is blessed with a deeply moving central performance by Jonathan Hyde

This British premier, by Martin Sherman, best known for his 1979 masterpiece, Bent, is a triumph.

Sherman combines the skill of composing powerful dialogue with a real understanding of stage craftsmanship.

At once funny and profound, this runs for 100 minutes without an interval, but never flags.

It tells the story of changing attitudes towards gay society from the 1930s until the present day, as illustrated by the love-life of Beau.

Jonathan Hyde’s performance in the leading role is deeply moving and utterly convincing – although he needs to work on his American accent.

He is at his most impressive in the long soliloquies where he details his sufferings and joys with sensitivity and wit.

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Imaginatively directed by Sean Mathias, the action concentrates on the modern-day relationships between three gays: Beau, Rufus and Harry.

Ben Allen plays Rufus, a confident lawyer, young and apparently at ease with contemporary attitudes, but revealing insecurities as the relationship deepens.

Even more of the twenty-first century is Harry, played by Harry Lawtey, whose lively interpretation of the character narrowly escapes caricature.

With a delicate balance of comedy and suffering, combined with the trivia of everyday life, the three of them represent the radically different attitudes between their age-groups and the astonishing speed with which attitudes and behaviours have changed in what is, historically speaking, a short time.

Leo Newby’s composite set is realistic but flexible and is supported by sound and music (Lex Koisanko) and lighting design (Jamie Platt), which combine to provide subtle comment on the action.

The overwhelming message of the piece seems to be that love is always love, whatever the ages, proclivities, personalities of the lovers.

We all need care and loyalty, tolerance and passion to support us through lives that are at once ridiculous and tragic.

However, the final scene, although amusing, did not ring true: it belonged in quite another play.

Perhaps this one should have ended with that extraordinary wedding.