A touching musical tale, The Tailor-Made Man brings to life the controversial relationship between 1920s movie star William ‘Billy’ Haines and his partner Jimmie Shields.
Talking to a journalist following Billy’s death in 1973, Jimmie recounts the tale of their lifelong bond, taking us on a retrospective journey from their early years together when Billy was crowned the winner of New Faces through to the height of his fame as the star of Hollywood blockbusters The Midnight Express and Brown Of Harvard, until his face is wiped off movie screens forever when MGM’s Louis B Mayer fires him for refusing to cover up his sexuality.
Dylan Turner and Bradley Clarkson are wholly believable as the well-known couple who become victims of homophobic discrimination. While Turner channels self-confidence and charm into his role as the adored movie star, Clarkson exudes warmth as the young man who is both besotted and hurt by Billy’s behaviour. In the short snippets of conversation that take us forward several decades, Clive Ward is suitably melancholic as an older version of Clarkson’s loyal Jimmie who is inevitably unable to live without his lifelong partner.
Michael Cotton brings humour to the production as the bumbling UV-sensitive script writer, Mike McShane is disturbingly likeable as the cunning and manipulative film producer despite destroying Billy’s acting career and a hint of Singin’ In The Rain’s Lina Lamont can be seen in Faye Tozer’s portrayal of Marion Davies, an actress in need of elocution lessons in order to make the transition to the world of ‘talkies’.
Turner and Clarkson’s heart-warming duets paint a tender picture of the couple’s relationship, but it isn’t solely the connection between the musical’s leading men that takes centre stage in this uplifting tale. The authentic friendship between Billy, Jimmie and Marion is beautifully evoked when the trio come together for the show’s final number The Life We Lead Is All About Design, celebrating the success of the interior design business set up by the couple following the end of Billy’s acting career.
The musical ends on a sombre note, but the warmth of Billy and Jimmie’s relationship resonates on, paving the way for another tale of love and sexuality, Jonathan Harvey’s Beautiful Thing, which opens at the Arts theatre following The Tailor-Made Man.