The tale of a middle-aged white gay New Yorker having romantic issues might not be the story the world is desperately crying out for at the moment, but Steve—now playing at the newly renamed Seven Dials Playhouse in London—is brisk, bright, and funny.
There’s a sense of new beginnings about this production bringing Mark Gerrard’s 2015 Off-Broadway hit (that starred Mario Cantone and was directed by Cynthia Nixon) to Europe. It’s a new start for an intimate black box theatre space in the heart of London’s West End. It’s the first major theatre role for lead actor David Ames, coming off a long run on television (Holby City), and it takes us back in time to a more innocent pre-2016 world, when it felt like we could indulge ourselves in fluffier emotional stories.
Steven (Ames) settles into a night at Joe Allen—New York’s famed theatreland restaurant—for a birthday dinner with his apparent nearest and dearest. His partner, Stephen (Joe Aaron Reid), best friend Carrie (Jenna Russell), and another couple; Brian (Giles Cooper) and Matt (Michael Walters). Between the rapid-fire conversation and non-stop Sondheim references, there’s some tension as Steven becomes fixated on Stephen’s phone.
Cue the drama. Sexting, thruples, flings, and fantasies get thrown around and torn apart over the course of a play laden with zingers and in-jokes for the musical theatre crowd. It’s not subtle, but it’s not trying to be. It’s a boozy dinner party full of people who all know each other intimately, who share endless experiences and can finish each other’s sentences. Throw in their sexy Argentinian waiter, Esteban (Nico Conde), and you have the set up for a farce. But that’s not what this is. Instead, it’s a rather gentle character-driven drama about love.
The cast are all on excellent form and there is a genuine warmth amongst them, especially Ames and Russell (one of London’s best actresses, who feels underused here). Ames carries the play; firing off wordy, neurotic dialogue with a boyish charm, reminiscent of Dan Levy as Schitt’s Creek’s David. However, the cast are working with a script that sizzles with banter, but barely scratches the surface of any deeper emotions. It feels more like the script for an 00s indie movie than a play.
The conceit of multiple characters named Steven, Stephen, and Stevie, and the obsessive Stephen Sondheim fandom, go nowhere. There are no revelations about love and romance to be found here. But this production directed by Andrew Keates is hard to dislike. With a fine cast and a confident, rewarding lead performance, Steve is a warm and charming 90 minutes, and the perfect way to escape the dying days of London’s harsh winter.
By Chad Armstrong
Steve plays at the Seven Dials Playhouse, London until Saturday, March 19th. Click here for more details and to purchase tickets.