The Local Stigmatic, Old Red Lion, theatre review: ‘A must see’

Wilson James and William Frazer in The Local Stigmatic. Picture: Scott Rylander

Wilson James and William Frazer in The Local Stigmatic. Picture: Scott Rylander - Credit: Archant

Heathcote Williams’ 1966 play is something of an enigma.

Al Pacino was so enamoured of it that he filmed it, starring himself. Critically well received, it was never released. Other playwrights and actors hold the work in awe and the director of this revival, Michael Toumey, writes of a two-decade interest in the play.

This is very much an aficionado’s piece.

The programme synopsis describes the action well. The difficulty is that neither on the printed page nor on stage do we discover the motivation of Ray and Graham – two of the most chillingly drawn psychopaths you’ll encounter on a stage.

These two young men are sharp: in their clothes, hair, style and patter – leather jackets, black turtle necks and post-Mod hair. They do not seem to have jobs but drift around dog racing tracks and hint at a living marked by casual violence.

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We meet them in their seedy London bed-sit; watch the delight with which they taunt a blind man then lure an unsuspecting, cravatted actor up an alley-way for a brutal kicking and some blade-work.

Early on we realise that Graham (brilliantly interpreted by Wilson James) is a seriously damaged character: he affects a Dickensesque speech, has bulging eyes and carries the constant threat of violence – all this combined with a fascination for celebrities.

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It seems that Ray (a subtle and mercurial William Frazer) is the moderating influence – calmer and restrained. Only during the gruesome assault on the actor (Tom Sawyer) do we realise he is a hard-core psychopath who relishes violence for its own sake.

This is more than a nod to the Kray twins and perhaps a rebuke to the clebs who clustered round them basking in their notoriety. It might even reference A Clockwork Orange, published four years earlier. As a narrative, it leaves heads scratching. As a superb piece of theatre with brilliant, intense performances, tight direction and a great soundtrack, this is a must see.

The Local Stigmatic is at The Old Red Lion.

Rating: 4/5 stars.

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