I’ve never bought into the distinction between ‘amateur’ and ‘professional’, at least on the London Fringe. Performers are lucky if they can barely cover expenses anyway; while many in the best so-called ‘amateur’ companies have had ‘professional’ training. The only difference, it seems to me, is in levels of pretension.

Take Tower Theatre, for example, one of the best and longest-established, I first saw them in 1965, ‘amateur’ companies. Inevitably in this kind of set-up standards will vary, especially at the rate the Tower churns ‘em out (17 shows in the pipeline!) in order to give everyone something to do. However, they excel in small-cast productions of adventurous plays where the most talented performers get a chance to stretch themselves. Their recent ‘Endgame’ was outstanding.

‘The Pride’ is certainly adventurous. Campbell cleverly interweaves two stories separated by fifty years, each featuring Sylvia, Oliver and Phillip though as different characters in each. In 1958, Philip is an estate agent married to Sylvia, who is illustrating Oliver’s children’s book. Philip and Oliver are instantly attracted, which leads to a brief fling which Oliver would take further, but for Philip’s self-denying repression. Philip seeks aversion therapy to cure his homosexuality. Sylvia, caught in a life of lies not of her own making, leaves.

In 2008 Oliver is a sex addict. Philip, his more stable and monogamous partner, can’t cope with this, and leaves him. Oliver, who really loves him but suffers from a kind of split personality, cries on the shoulder of his best mate, Sylvia, who is sucked into his neediness until she too rebels.

The play is fascinating in that it points out both the differences and similarities between the two eras. Grinder may have replaced towpaths and toilets, but self-oppression is alive and well, in that Oliver’s sexual obsession is just as much a product of feelings of worthlessness as Philip’s refusal to face up to who he is. The role of women has its parallels too: Sylvia the exploited wife becomes Sylvia the girlfriend, exploited in a different way, until she strikes for independence.

Campbell’s writing stylistically mirrors the two eras. The 1958 sections are written in a wordier, stiffer style which might have come out of a lesser Terence Rattigan play; they combine articulacy with emotional reticence; the 2008 parts are altogether freer, both in the dialogue and the ability to voice feelings. Clearly written by someone of great talent, ‘The Pride’ nevertheless displays some of the weaknesses of a first play. There are loose ends; what happens to 1958 Philip after his ‘therapy’ is unclear; 2008 Oliver’s resolution of his conflicts is altogether too easy, in a feelgood ending which isn’t entirely earned. I would have liked to see some kind of equivalent positive psychotherapy to balance and parallel the earlier, appalling shrink.

The production, and particularly the performance of Oliver, suffers from a little stiffness which may disappear during the run. The two Olivers need sharper differentiation physically and vocally. Karima Chellig as the two Sylvias achieves this effortlessly, and is very moving, in the 1950s scenes in particular. Equally outstanding is Michael Bettell in a series of cameos to which he brings wit, energy and sharp delineation. I will not easily forget his chilling aversion therapist, with his graphic (and historically accurate) descriptions of what the chemical castration actually consists of.

This kind of powerful affirmative theatre could almost have been produced by Gay Sweatshop in the mid-1970s. It’s good to see that Gay Theatre, which has been in something of a crisis, still has a role; only now it can be mounted by, and directed towards, anyone.

Reviews by Peter Scott-Presland

Charing Cross Theatre

Jacques Brel is Alive and Living in Paris

★★★
Jermyn Street Theatre

Return of the Soldier

★★★
Southwark Playhouse

Eye of a Needle

★★★★
Rosemary Branch Theatre

The Trial of the Jew Shylock

★★★
Southwark Playhouse

In The Heights

★★★★

Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this review has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Donate to Theatre MAD now

Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £1.7m to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
Donate to Acting For Others now

The Blurb

Starting just as the West End revival of Alexi Kaye Campbell's beautiful drama about the changing nature of homosexual relationships finishes is this fringe production from Tower Theatre. The play is a gem: light, funny and heartfelt.

Most Popular See More

The Lion King

From £25.00

More Info

Find Tickets

The Phantom of the Opera

From £27.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Mamma Mia!

From £18.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Frozen the Musical

From £36.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Matilda the Musical

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Mary Poppins

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets