Dying on stage is a one man show written by Edward Chapman that seems particularly prescient amidst the ongoing scandal of popular television presenters being accused of indecent acts with children. There are a number of chilling parallels to the stories we’ve all been reading about in the news and this play’s main character Roy Stacey. Set in 1975 the play traces the downfall of Stacey the game show host as well as his possible redemption.
Leo Appleton is admirable as the sleazy if likeable Roy Stacey. His mannerisms, particularly during the game show sequences, are spot on complete with signature catchphrase and gimmicky pulling of the suspenders. Though he is still convincing in the dressing room sequences he is certainly less entertaining. At these times the energy lags and the copious exposition begins to feel cumbersome. Certain plot strands, for instance that Stacey’s marriage has been on the ropes ever since his daughter died at a young age, are also very clichéd.
What is most impressive about the play is that it is quite impossible to say with any certainty whether or not Stacey is guilty of the crimes of which he has been accused. Although he seems honest and likeable enough and is disgusted by the very idea that he might have molested a child, sometimes his honesty works against him. For instance, one of the reasons that he is quite convinced that he didn’t abuse the girl, despite being too drunk to remember anything, is that he doesn’t believe he would ever put his career in jeopardy. There is just enough sleaziness, just enough of the wheeler dealer Del-boy that one is never quite sure.
It also provides an interesting glimpse of the entertainment in the 70s. The cutthroat nature, the parties one day, the disgrace the next and this constant need to smile even when you know that you are doing is the entertainment equivalent of dog turd, all this has a lurid fascinating. A scene where Stacey breaks down on camera while recording his last ever show is genuinely hilarious, as we see all this pressure thrust away in one cathartic burst.
However, the ending is almost depressingly upbeat. In the end we learn that everything is alright, that everything that needed to be healed can and has been healed. It begins as slightly syrupy but ends as sickly sweet.
Dying On Stage is certainly a good play with a strong central performance but the script often lacks the necessary edge.