The Pride


Review by Ellen Becker

L.P Hartley’s now proverbial opening line to his 1953 novel The Go-Between, “The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there,” seems rather prescient to Alexi Kaye Campbell’s Olivier-award winning play The Pride, now on at the beautiful Eternity Playhouse in Darlinghurst. Campbell traces the lives of three young Londoners, navigating love within the restrictive sexual confines of 1958. Running parallel to this narrative, we see the same three characters' lives transposed to the vastly different country of 2008.

We first meet Phillip and his wife Sylvia in 1958. Phillip (Simon London) is a lost soul, roped into the family business after the premature deaths of his father and brother. Sylvia (Geraldine Hakewill), on the other hand, finds her work as a children’s book illustrator incredibly fulfilling – despite having shelved her dreams of becoming an actress. As the pair prepare “to meet the faces that you meet” – dinner with Sylvia’s new employer, Oliver (Matt Minto) -  her trepidation signals at once her sense that something might happen between them - and a semblance of hope that nothing will.

Forward to 2008, Oliver is nursing a heavy heart after a weary Phillip ends their 18-month relationship. While harbouring strong feelings for Oliver, Phillip is exhausted by Oliver’s reckless compulsion for anonymous sex. Their close friend Sylvia - who introduced the pair - tries to nurse Oliver through his self-destructive heartache, and perhaps force some much-needed introspection. 

Campbell’s witty but potent script subtly traces the shifting attitudes towards homosexuality in Britain from 1958 to 2008, showing how these shifts shape the arc of people’s lives. In 1958, the restrictive social and legal mores around homosexuality make victims of all three characters. As Oliver and Phillip fall in love, Sylvia must confront the heartbreaking fact that her life has been a lie, and Phillip’s struggle against his true self culminates in emotional – and ultimately sexual – violence against both Sylvia and Oliver. 

In 2008, Oliver and Phillip can practice their love without fear of prosecution, affirm their love in the form of a civil partnership, and as the marriage equality movement gains momentum - gay marriage is on the horizon. But Oliver expresses ambivalence to both the history of persecution, and the marks of progress – did they free themselves of shackles simply to adopt the still restrictive bonds of heterosexual norms and expectations?

Shane Bosher has elicited nuanced and complex portraits from his commendable cast. The luminous Geraldine Hakewill beautifully fills the role of the cloistered Sylvia of 1958, a layered performance that at once exemplifies the stoic, adroit femininity of the '50's, and the palpable emotions bubbling just under the surface. London and Minto craft a credible chemistry, oscillating between the stuffy physicality and cryptic conversations of the earlier milieu, to the sardonic, unrelenting conversation and loose, un self-conscious physicality of the modern. Special mention must also be made of Kyle Kazmarik, who makes gold of three bit parts in the play, reinventing himself each time into three fully fledged, utterly distinct characters with flawless craft - an absolute marvel.

Lighting designer Verity Hampson and costume designer Lisa Mimmochi have crafted not only seamless but effectively eerie time transitions – slight changes in light or costume herald the change, as the actor morphs into present time like a ghostly apparition. Lucilla Smith's sparse but blank canvas stage design serves this eeriness perfectly.  

While it's easy to disavow and disown less "enlightened" times from our precarious moral vantage point, the ghosts of the past inevitably thrust their mark into the present. In a not too distant future, when Australia has finally made gay marriage legal, I wonder what they will make of the foreign country of our past-present enlightenment?