Mart Crowley’s play may not be the shocking expose of gay social life it was when it premiered in 1968, and occasionally it shows its age, but in lucid moments there’s a timelessness that speaks to today quite profoundly. The way one comes to terms with one’s sexuality hasn’t really changed. Nor have the high levels of depression among gay people.
So the abundant, waspish humour in this tight revival, starring husband and husband team Ian Hallard and Sherlock co-creator Mark Gatiss, barely veils a sadness in these characters’ lives – a sadness that, too often, still persists today.
In an elegant New York apartment, Michael and friends celebrate Harold’s birthday, becoming increasingly drunk. The nine men at the party run the gamut of campness, from James Holmes’s cutesy Shirley Temple act – he really goes all out on the camp front – to the cool insouciance of Ben Mansfield’s Larry. Then there’s Alan, played by John Hopkins, perfectly cast as the straight man entering this high camp world in black tie with a bassy voice.
Hallard gives a solid central performance as Michael. His smiling eyes and easy charm give way to desperation and desolation as the party takes a sinister turn. Gatiss is a class act as Harold, giving a detailed and observant performance, his sharp eyes always intently studying the other actors.
In one moment, as the characters dance to a song, it’s very easy to believe this is a group of friends who go way back. The second act is a lot less zippy than the first, but this ensemble cast pulls together under Adam Penford’s direction for a fun revival, its levity laced with something more bittersweet.
The Boys in the Band is at the Vaudeville Theatre, London, from February 7-18