Review Roundup: What Did Critics Say About TORCH SONG?

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Review Roundup: What Did Critics Say About TORCH SONG?

Turbine Theatre presents its inaugural production, Torch Song starring Matthew Needham (Arnold), Daisy Boulton (Laurel), Dino Fetscher (Ed) and Rish Shah (Alan), Jay Lycurgo (David) and Bernice Stegers (Ma).

The groundbreaking and Tony Award winning story of drag queen Arnold Beckoff (Matthew Needham - Chernobyl, HBO, Summer & Smoke, Almeida/West End) and his quest for true love in 1970s Manhattan is a hilarious and heartbreaking portrait of love, loss, sexual identity and the deep longing for family approval that drives us all forward, and drives us all crazy.

This new revival of Harvey Fierstein's dizzyingly funny and deeply touching landmark play, is presented by Bill Kenwright and Paul Taylor-Mills for The Turbine Theatre, and is directed by Olivier Award winning Drew McOnie (King Kong, Strictly Ballroom, On The Town). The production features design by Ryan Laight, lighting by James Whiteside, sound by Seb Frost, with casting by Will Burton.

Torch Song runs for a strictly limited season from 22 August - 13 October 2019, with press night on Friday 6 September.

Let's see what the critics had to say...


Caroline Cronin, BroadwayWorld: Matthew Arnold delivers an astounding performance as Arnold - he is able to handle the deeply emotional moments with a visceral stillness that speaks volumes. Equally, he thrives when the material is lighter and more comedic. Drew McOnie's direction is fresh and engaging, and feels anchored entirely in the movement around the stage of all six actors.

Michael Billington, The Guardian: Many of the play's arguments, especially about the normalcy of gay relationships, are now widely accepted and Fierstein bombards us with one-liners such as "a thing of beauty is a joy till sunrise". But Arnold remains a rich role that Matthew Needham, last seen in Tennessee Williams's Summer and Smoke, successfully makes his own. He focuses less on Arnold's drag-queen flamboyance than on his neediness, insecurity and craving for love and respect.

Nick Curtis, Evening Standard: A firecracker performance by Matthew Needham lights up this streamlined version of Harvey Fierstein's classic gay trilogy, smartly helmed by choreographer turned director Drew McOnie. Needham, star of Chernobyl and last summer's stage hit Summer and Smoke, plays Arnold, a drag queen and torch singer looking for love in the sexual free-for all of late 70s/early 80s New York. By turns waspish, playful and vulnerable, he leads a strong cast in a bold opening for London's newest theatre.

Paul Vale, The Stage: The focus of much gay drama shifted over the next two decades as the spectre of Aids took hold. Plays that championed acceptance were superseded by plays that told of the fight for survival. Today the landscape may have settled but Arnold's battles are still being fought 40 years later. Fierstein's play, albeit edited from the original four hours, continues to speak with humour, clarity and defiance.

Stefan Kyriazis, Express: Any staging of Torch Song Trilogy starts with an extraordinary advantage. Harvey Fierstein's voice shines out from every beautiful line. His brave, brilliant, wise, fragile and fearless - and savagely funny - celebration of the human spirit remains as potent today as ever. Gay visibility has increased exponentially since the 1970s but intolerance and bigotry are rearing their hydra heads yet again. Human nature, for better and worse, rarely ever changes. Nor does the desire for love and acceptance (of yourself and others) as we follow the tottering steps of Arnold Beckoff (aka drag queen Virginia Ham) towards an actual, hard-won happy ending. We root for him every step of the way, recognising ourselves in his hidden and hopeful heart.

Tom Wicker, TimeOut: While there's strong work from Daisy Boulton and Bernice Stegers as Ed's girlfriend and Arnold's mother, they're more cameos. In some ways, from its language to some of its tropes, 'Torch Song' is very much rooted in its time - a bulb-flash snapshot of a lost New York City. But it's also extraordinarily progressive in its willingness to explore Ed's sexual identity without censor or lazy closure.

Tom Birchenough, The Arts Desk: How does it stand up after nearly four decades? Very well indeed. From same-sex marriage to adoption, so much has changed, beyond recognition almost, since the time that Fierstein was writing, but he was engaging with gay identity (and, crucially, self-identity) in the broadest sense and the humanity of the play feels undiminished, coupled with a wit that's as crisply bracing as ever. (Torch Song stands apart from all subsequent gay drama, of course, for its reflection of life before HIV/AIDS, the play having emerged in the years immediately before the world which it depicted underwent a sea change.)

Photo Credit: Mark Senior

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