Theatre review: An Audience with Jimmy Savile at the Park Theatre

An Audience With Jimmy Savile. Picture: Helen Maybanks

An Audience With Jimmy Savile. Picture: Helen Maybanks - Credit: Helen Maybanks

Jonathan Maitland’s play is a well intentioned effort to explain how Savile got away with it, but the story feels undeveloped, says Marinaka Swain.

How did he get away with it? That’s the question Jonathan Maitland’s controversial new play addresses, juxtaposing national treasure Sir Jimmy Savile, feted by monarchs, prime ministers and cardinals, with the thuggish serial abuser. Savile’s cheeky asides – the knighthood “got me off the hook!” – gain a chilling double meaning with hindsight.

Maitland’s respectful docudrama, set in 1991, blends real witness statements and transcripts with imagined scenes. Savile is being honoured on a This Is Your Life-style show, but while he boasts of improving lives, we see evidence to the contrary – Lucy, a fictional amalgam of several victims, was raped by Savile aged 12 while in hospital. Leah Whitaker’s Lucy is heartbreakingly vulnerable recalling the attack: too young to understand what was happening until it was too late.

Maitland confronts the culture that facilitated Savile’s crimes; while monstrous, he wasn’t the lone devil we might prefer. The BBC protected its “man of the people” asset, police officers buried complaints, and hospital administrators gave the generous celebrity free rein. It’s a salutary reminder that such atrocities could recur without serious institutional and legal reform.

Alistair McGowan embodies Savile with unnerving skill, donning not just shiny tracksuit, cigar and deliberate verbal tics, but also the nasty shrewdness of the master manipulator: in public, lowering our defences with quirky charm; in private, flaunting knowledge of libel law, belittling accusers in brutally misogynistic terms, and twisting Catholic doctrine to claim his good deeds cancel out the bad.

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Maitland’s play and Brendan O’Hea’s perfunctory production offer little new information, and the underdeveloped fictional subplot feels generic. But, with strong supporting turns from Graham Seed, Charlotte Page and Robert Perkins, this is a well-intentioned attempt to honour the victims’ story, untold for far too long.

Rating: 3/5 stars

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