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The View Upstairs: Soho Theatre

October 16, 2019

(seen at the afternoon performance on 24th August 2019)

How far have we come with LGBTQ+ rights? This Max Vernon show makes for an uncomfortable summary, and a deeply moving exploration.

Young New York fashionista Wes (Tyrone Huntley in the performance of his life) moves back home to New Orleans and buys a burned out building for half a million dollars. In 1973 that same building was a gay bar that burned down at the cost of 32 lives – about which the city and media cared not a jot. Wes ends up back when it happened, and meets those who were there.

It’s a ghost story, a gay romance, certainly a Mass in their honour, and the whole is a privilege to watch as well as an education. Around 105 minutes without an interval is enough to learn a little about just how tough gay lives were back then – and how despite years of protest and calls for equality they are really not much better now.

The cleverness is in a book that gives each character a contrasting background linked by sexuality and the need for companionship and support that sexuality brings.

Wes has the confidence and knowledge of 2017, whatever that turns out to be. Against waif Patrick (Andy Mientus) he finds himself manipulated and manipulating, Mientus playing contrast with weight and intelligence without swamping his background situation.

Bar Keeper Henri (Carly Mercedes Dyer) has (SPOILER ALERT, if a key lyric is taken literally, gender transition SPOILER ENDS) to deal with, with philosophical fierceness. Her pianist Buddy (John Partridge) is more classic, the man with a wife at home and shreds of both relationship and career to cling to.

Freddy (Garry Lee) is a talented drag artist with sympathetic mother Inez (Victoria Hamilton-Barritt soloing with usual ability on “The Most Important Thing”).

Dale (Declan Bennett) is on the edge, wonderfully powerful-controlled acting in a pivotal role easily over-done.

Then there’s Rev. Richard (Joseph Prouse), whose prayer meeting and “Are You Listening, God?” hold meaning emphasised by well studied sympathy in performance.

Other senior Willie (Cedric Neal) provides balance and a little campness… and struck up an amusing running gag with the monkey on the corner of the front row.

Maybe not all the music lands first time on hearing (and Adam Fisher’s sound design didn’t help in the bigger numbers), but Lee Newby gives us a bar room set to be proud of, for Jonathan O’Boyle to direct very real people on.

Fabian Aloise scores another triumph with choreography on a tiny stage building huge characters, and a note too for Nic Farman whose lighting is appropriately dingy but concealing nothing.

The closing scenes are devastating, the final coda moving. There’s a full-scale two act show in here, perhaps, or maybe this thoughtful contemplation is enough. Either way, it’s a reflective experience that will sear your consciousness as much as your conscience.

4 stars.

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