In 1995 when it was first performed, Terrence McNally’s play Love! Valour! Compassion! Won a Tony Award for Best Play along with a slew of other awards. After a long hiatus, the show is back on the London stage thanks to the new SEDOS production at the Bridewell Theatre.
Gregory (James Daly), a renowned choreographer, is getting his lakeside summer vacation house in Dutchess County ready for the arrival of his holiday guests who are travelling down from New York to celebrate Memorial Day. As well as Gregory’s boyfriend Bobby (Simon Brooke), who is driving down with married couple Arthur (Lewis McKenzie) and Perry (Robbie Fulford), the house will welcome musical theatre-loving Buzz (Jacob Hajjar) with open arms. Also along, though maybe not as welcome, is the acerbic English playwright John (Rob Ingham) along with his current partner, the much younger, very attractive dancer Ramon (Fernando Cahnfeld). As the weather fails to deliver the hoped-for sunshine, the group find themselves facing themselves and each other as the realities of their lives crowd in upon them.
When it was first produced, during the height of the AIDS crisis, Love! Valour! Compassion! Was a really hard-hitting show and despite the way things have moved on, I don’t think it has lost any of its original power. There are a lot of plays around concerning groups of gay men with problems – The Boys in The Band and My Night With Reg immediately spring to mind – and this play deserves a place on the top tier of these stories. Whilst there is a bit of stereotyping with the characters, they are also a group that feels like they could be friends in the real world. Even John, the outsider, is an honest and believable member of the group. My favourite character was, no surprise, Buzz, a guy always singing show tunes and making self-deprecating jokes about being not interested in looking for love whilst crying himself to sleep at night. That one really hit close to home.
Director Robert J. Stanex also designed the deceptively simple, but very effective set – complete with lake-raft – and, together with Movement & Intimacy Director, Kimberly Barker, use the stage space beautifully with some beautiful choreography, take the cast and audience inside and outside of the house in a way that interweaves the property with the cast. There were some issues with the sound and lights which distracted me a little, but I’m sure they were just teething troubles and nothing really to worry about.
Moving to the cast and, whilst everyone was really good, the standout performance for me was from Rob Ingham as both John and his twin brother James. Ingham delivered a superb performance making both characters individuals with their own personalities but linked by blood. The scene where John for probably the first and last time confronts James, as his AIDS-ravaged body is starting to fail, is heart-breaking and reduced me to the usual blubbering wreck. I’m also going to give a round of applause to Simon Brooke as Bobby. It can’t be easy playing a blind man without resorting to clichéd movements or actions, but Brooke pulled it off perfectly, and I have to admit that I didn’t realise the character was blind for a while.
There was a lot I liked about Love! Valour! Compassion! The trick of using a character to talk directly to the audience, filling in detail and giving useful insights, not only worked but made me feel a part of the story of these eight men. I loved the way Ramon, basking on the raft, relishing his own beauty, said so much about the Puerto Rican dancer without a word being spoken. And as for the Danse des Petits Cygnes, well my reaction was that of humour, horror, and sadness. Not bad for a bit of unexpected, but very welcome, Tchaikovsky.
Yes, Love! Valour! Compassion! Is another gay play about AIDS but so what? Whilst it is pretty much of its time, It is a well-written piece that given everything the world has gone through in the last two years is very relevant and raises questions of worldwide healthcare priorities in relation to developing cures for pandemics. SEDOS are to be congratulated for this production of Love! Valour! Compassion! Which has been off the stage for way too long.
Review by Terry Eastham
Winner of the 1995 Tony Award for Best Play, Love! Valour! Compassion! is a monumental exploration into life, love and loss at the end of the millennium.
The three-act gay epic returns to London for the first time since its original 1998 off West End run, produced by acclaimed amateur theatre society, Sedos.
As hilarious as it is heart-breaking, Terrence McNally’s seminal work captures the zeitgeist of 90s America and forces the question – when reality hits home, who and what is most important to us?
GREGORY | James Daly
ARTHUR | Lewis McKenzie
PERRY | Robbie Fulford
JOHN / JAMES | Rob Ingham
BUZZ | Jacob Hajjar
BOBBY | Simon Brooke
RAMON | Fernando Cahnfeld
DIRECTOR and DESIGNER | Robert J. Stanex
PRODUCER | Rebecca Chisholm
MOVEMENT and INTIMACY DIRECTOR | Kimberly Barker
ASSISTANT DIRECTOR | Louise Roberts
Love! Valour! Compassion!
By Terrence McNally
Tuesday 5-Friday 8 July at 7.30pm
Saturday 9 July at 5pm
Bride Lane, off Fleet Street, London EC4Y 8EQ