Theatre Review: Torch Song (Turbine Theatre, London) ★★★★

Welcome to London, where you can’t spin a cat without hitting a new Aesop store, a new outlet of the Ivy Brasserie, or a new fringe theatre space associated with a new real estate development. The very definition of luxury problems. But here we are, and as the iconic Battersea Power Station continues to be redeveloped, surrounded by new apartment complexes aimed at the 1%, a new theatre has emerged – the Turbine Theatre.

Promising to “generate new work”, “deliver powerful premieres” and “re-energise classics”, its debut production is Harvey Feirstein’s 80s classic Torch Song Trilogy, last seen in London in 2012. Seven years between revivals is a little short IMO, but how would this new theatre “re-energise” this queer classic?

Matthew Needham and Dino Fetcher. Photo by Mark Senior.

Well, to be honest, they haven’t. Not that that is necessarily a bad thing – the play’s heart and wit shine through in this excellent (but very traditional) production. 

Matthew Needham, last seen in the brilliant Almeida Theatre production of Tennesee Williams’ Summer & Smoke, is frankly flawless in the role of Arnold Beckoff – a Jewish drag performer. Camp and romantic with a stinging wit, Arnold inhabits the world of pre-AIDS New York. Unlike his friends he wants more than a backroom hook-up. He wants to find his man, his ‘international stud’, and does in the form of Ed (Dino Fetcher, Years & Years), a school teacher and the model American man.

Directed by Drew McOnie (Broadway’s King Kong, West End’s Strictly Ballroom) the show inhabits the small stage space with elegent economy. Some of the performances suffer from a modicum of over-acting or dodgy accent work (which you really notice in a space this size) but on the whole the ensemble deliver the goods. Torch Song pivots on the relations between the lovers Arnold and Ed, and Arnold’s relationship with his mother (Bernice Stegers) and these are rock solid.

Matthew Needham and Bernice Stegers. Photo by Mark Senior.

All in all, it’s a promising start to a new theatre with an enviable location on the Thames. I question whether London needs, or can even support, all the new theatres opening up but hopefully the Turbine can develop a clear voice.

Torch Song plays at the Turbine Theatre until 13th October 2019.

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