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BWW Review: THE TWENTIETH CENTURY WAY, Jermyn Street Theatre

The hauntingly intimate Jermyn Street Theatre sees the British premiere of Tom Jacobson's The Twentieth Century Way. Set in 1914, the play recounts the struggle that gay men had to endure at the beginning of the last century. Historically accurate, it focuses on the persecution, clandestine love and betrayal that were at the centre of homosexual males in Long Beach, California, when law enforcement hired two actors as bait to expose and arrest homosexual men.

Two chairs, a hanging rail and a trunk are the only items that accompany the performance, led by Fraser Wall and James Sindall. The two actors jump back and forth from one character to the other, sometimes even mid-sentence, not only demonstrating great ownership of their parts, but also unveiling powerful chemistry from the very beginning.

Through their array of characters - from policemen to clergymen, from actors to lawyers - Wall and Sindall are far from impeccable, but their imperfections only add to the makings of the soul of the show.

Their performance is deceivingly funny as the lines between characters and actors blur more and more. Marylynne Anderson-Cooper's direction makes the subject of the play hit hard. In a climate where queer rights and people's safety are put in jeopardy on a daily basis, the (only apparent) lighthearted tone of the show is in striking contrast with the dark and delicate theme.

It's up to the audience to read between the lines and think about what they see between a laugh and the other. The names of all the gay men who were convicted by the Long Beach police could almost go unnoticed by the inattentive theatregoer, but the message comes across very clearly.

The Twentieth Century Way runs at the Jermyn Street Theatre until 28 January.

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