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The Local Stigmatic review at the Old Red Lion, London – ‘a fascinating revival’

Wilson James and William Frazer in The Local Stigmatic at the Old Red Lion, London. Photo: Scott Rylander Wilson James and William Frazer in The Local Stigmatic at the Old Red Lion, London. Photo: Scott Rylander

Heathcote Williams’ queasy, seedy one-act play, The Local Stigmatic – revived here in its 50th anniversary year – is a real find. It was turned into a film starring Al Pacino back in the 1980s but never given a theatrical release – it’s worth looking up though, his London accent is quite something. The play itself is a twisted thing,  a dark but fascinating dramatic nugget which seems to anticipate the work of writers like Philip Ridley and Simon Stephens. There are shades of Patrick Hamilton and Julian McClaren-Ross in here, a little bit of Withnail.

Graham and Ray share a shabby London flat. They spend their days debating the dog racing and ‘following’ actors of note. They are drawn to fame like moths beating against a bulb. They pick over articles in gossip magazines and latch on to certain famous people.  The piece is intentionally, often frustratingly oblique, the men speak in circles, their talk peppered with the jargon of the racing pages. It’s brutal too and is still unsettling in this regard. It’s also a very contained play, taut and short, a window into this pair’s intense, co-dependent, and oddly intimate world.

Michael Toumey’s production is serviceable but a bit texturally one-note. It starts shouting early on and gives itself very little room to grow. The cast draw from it unexpected pockets of tenderness though, particularly William Frazer as the slightly less unhinged – and therefore more menacing – Ray, and it absolutely makes the case for the play in terms of influence, dramatic potency, and a startling sense of foresight.

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Rare revival of Heathcote Williams’ brutal yet fascinating one-act play