BWW Reviews: THE GAY NAKED PLAY, Above the Stag, January 21 2014
After losing its Victoria home (and its namesake pub) to the juggernaut that is Transport for London - Above the Stag has found a new home (and charitable status) under a railway arch in Vauxhall. Following the success of it's annual panto, David Bell's Off-broadway farce THE GAY NAKED PLAY (also known as THE PLAY ABOUT THE NAKED GUY) continues the first season in its new home.
The Intrepid Players are a critically acclaimed troupe bringing the lesser known classics to the masses. Or at least that's the plan, for despite glowing reviews in the New York Times it seems that there just isn't an audience for THE HA'PENNY OF BRIXTON STREET. With their leading lady about to give birth, and their primary (only) backer and soon-to-be grandmother ready to pull the plug they look for the one thing that can save them: commercial theatre, targeting the 25-50 year old affluent gay men of Manhattan.
With a porn star (Matthew Ferdanzi as Kit Swagger) usurping the newly out and very smitten Harold Lichtenberger (Lucas Livesey) as lead man in the new smash based on Mel Gibson's passion - will this compromise save The Players, or be the end of fringe theatre as we know it.
As you'd expect from something called THE GAY NAKED PLAY this is not a hard hitting satire on modern theatre, but it's certainly a lot of fun. Bell's writing has wit, with some well-observed side-swipes at the fringe theatre scene. It's also affectionately poking fun at its host venue, itself not averse to providing titillation for an older gay crowd.
The original members of The Intrepid Players play their stooge roles well. Christopher Woodley as camp director Eddie Rossini and his flamboyant creative team, Robert Hannouch and Toby Joyce play their part with good humour if perhaps hamming up what are certainly pantomime roles a little too much.
The real star of the show is Ellen Verenieks as wealthy matriarch (and Downton Abbey fan) Mrs Anderson. Her plotting and scheming is a delight to watch as she does everything she can to rescue her pregnant daughter from a life in the theatre and take her back to London.
This is by no means a perfect play, with apparently American accents never quite settling on one location (and occasionally making it all the way across the Atlantic to Ireland). An attempt at a musical montage in the second act also doesn't quite land (and feels a little too obviously like an attempt to hurry the plot along). But there's enough in the writing to make for an enjoyable two hours. There's also plenty to tease a voyeuristic audience without (quite) crossing the line into exploitation. With Above The Stag's crowd, THE GAY NAKED PLAY is likely to be a hit of which Eddie Rossini would be proud.