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Le Grand Mort starring Julian Clary – review at Trafalgar Studios, London – ‘a misfire’

James Nelson-Joyce and Julian Clary in Le Grand Mort at Trafalgar Studios, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton James Nelson-Joyce and Julian Clary in Le Grand Mort at Trafalgar Studios, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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After a while, the sheer number of phallic metaphors in Le Grand Mort – thrust clumsily into everything from the crucifixion to the death of Princess Diana – becomes numbing.

This is a play coated with semen and tortured into bad rhyme. Julian Clary’s Michael chats to us as he cooks dinner while awaiting a younger man Tim, played by James Nelson-Joyce. He’s making puttanesca, but actually serves us endless platefuls of cod-philosophy about the sex and death drive.

Stephen Clark’s play clearly thinks it’s terribly shocking. Much of it, though, is like Wikipedia for pseuds. Clark wrote this play for Clary, but presumably did not intend it as the punishment it sometimes feels like as it rattles orgasmically through seemingly every major death in history.

Clary adds a dark twinkle to a few genuinely funny lines, but it’s never long before we’re faced with another speech about foreskins or mothers.

Christopher Renshaw has directed Clark’s work before – most often musicals – but this stilted production fails to lift the portentous words off the page or create any sustained dynamic between the actors.

Sound designer Ed Lewis struggles vainly to generate any sense of suspense over Michael’s plans for Tim. This isn’t so much a dark comedy as someone bumping into furniture during a power cut.

By the time a completely naked Nelson-Joyce is vigorously thrusting his willy at a life-sized sculpture of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, the whole thing has become an eye-popping mess. While technically a two-hander, there’s something distinctly one-handed about the wankiness of the whole experience.

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Julian Clary stars in this pretentious misfire of a play about sex and death