There was a moment during last night’s press night of the revival of Alexi Kaye Campbell’s The Pride when a woman in the audience involuntarily let out a loud shriek of shock as one character reached to slap another. It was a completely forgivable interruption, so electric is Jamie Lloyd’s production of the poignant drama.
Crisscrossing between a stuffy, inhibited 1958 and a modern-day, Waitrose-loving middle-class London, Harry Hadden-Paton and Al Weaver star as two explosive couples in Campbell’s emotionally taut but devilishly witty drama portraying the course of their relationships against the backdrop of two radically different times.
Caught in the crossfire is Hayley Atwell’s Sylvia; first as the suffering wife of a man desperately – and to shockingly extreme ends – attempting to repress what he perceives as “deviant” feelings, then as a friend trapped in the middle of her mutual friends’ broken relationship, wrecked by an addiction to readily available sex.
Moving from hiding shamefully behind bushes in parks to happily boasting about similar exploits aided by Grindr, society may progress, but loneliness and betrayal remain constant themes throughout Campbell’s extraordinary piece. In 1958 Philip and Sylvie lie in bed awake at night in a state of perpetual loneliness caused by what is unspeakable, while modern-day Oliver and Philip are kept awake instead by the infidelities that have been admitted; the lines of acceptable behavior blurring confusingly in the parallel experiences that physically and hauntingly overlap one another, aided by Soutra Gilmour’s ghostly mirror design.
Lloyd’s elegant but sparsely staged drama allows few distractions from Campbell’s engrossing characters, grippingly portrayed by the capable cast. Atwell switches easily between the beautiful but fragile silenced 50s wife and her present day counterpart who bursts with big-mouthed liveliness and sparkling confidence. Hadden-Paton moves with his performance as a man simmering with unhappiness, boiling over to a moment of brutality that would be unimaginable to his capable, together modern-day Philip, while Mathew Horne offers comic relief in a series of short appearances as characters met along the way, from a world-weary gigolo dressed as a Nazi soldier to a lads’ mag editor who mistakes the passing of political correctness as an excuse for casual prejudice.
It is the least starry cast member Weaver, however, who provides the beating heart of the production. Chronically sad and passionately wanting as both periods’ Oliver, his performance is unflinchingly raw to the point where you’d like to close your eyes to offer the character some privacy. From playing a man making brave steps to redefine society’s ideals to the role of a waggish journalist for whom Pride is now more fashion show than demonstration, both worlds in The Pride orbit around his brokenhearted characters.
When the cast appears for the curtain call holding placards that read “To Russia with love”, it is a stark and crucial reminder that while The Pride’s London may have progressed, there are places where the torturous prejudices of 1958 hold strong.