“You gotta live for yourself in this life. Can’t live for others”. The cynical motto of Bill Naughton’s eponymous character in his 1963 play
when the action does get going, particularly in the third act, we are treated to an incredibly gripping, bold piece of theatre
Steve Chusak leads a strong cast with a commanding performance in the title role, developing the character of Alfie throughout the play, constantly adding new layers and contradictions to his multifaceted personality. Initially portrayed solely as a heartless, promiscuous misogynist, Chusak allows us at times to see Alfie’s sensitive side, culminating in a powerful monologue in the play’s final act where it seems that Alfie has realised what he’s become. By the end, we almost feel sympathy for Alfie, who by now has managed to push away all of those he has ever been close to.
The play is a slow burner and it takes a while for the action to build. This is worsened by the two fifteen minute intervals where the audience are escorted out of the theatre to allow for set changes. As well as adding thirty minutes to the runtime, having two intervals makes the action feel a bit stop-start, and we lose the sense of immersion. However, when the action does get going, particularly in the third act, we are treated to an incredibly gripping, bold piece of theatre, in a harrowing scene between Alfie and Lily (Cerys Knighton). The challenging material is handled with sensitive, authentic performances by the two actors.
The play is also set fantastically well, with the audience placed either side of the stage, so close to the action that we feel like we are on stage ourselves. This, combined with Alfie’s casual slipping in and out of direct address, creates an immersive experience, inviting us to become participants rather than spectators.
An exciting and important production, which shamefully still feels as relevant today, with Alfie’s sickening use of the pronoun ‘it’, when referring to a woman or ‘bird’, and a clear struggle for the working class to survive, with poor healthcare and families straining to make ends meet. A rather bleak picture of social inequality, which asks us to consider - has anything changed?