Theatre Preview: Six Degrees of Separation



Not content with one play this week, Monday night was a chance to catch up with the West End Whingers and troupe to see a preview of Six Degrees of Separation at The Old Vic. John Guare's award-winning play was having its first London revival in 18 years. Variations on the above artwork for this production are on posters across the tube network and they're enough to make you want to go see it... It just looks so terribly sophisticated and smart...

The play has a sort of legendary status, but this is less to do with the play itself... In 1993 it was made into a film with Stockard Channing (reprising her Broadway role) and Will Smith, who largely was remembered for playing a gay character and not being that gay as there was no kissing and not much nudity (it was all a bit no homo)... Shortly after the film came out Kevin Bacon made the statement he worked with everyone in Hollywood and thus gave birth to the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon phenomena. Amongst some circles, this became better known than the play itself. So much so that a colleague thought that was what I was seeing...

Anyway, headlining the show is Obi Abili, Anthony Head and Lesley Manville. All of them are excellent in delivering what seems like a series of three-act monologues that make up this show. Abili has no problems playing a gay con man who ingratiates himself into the lives of some rich New Yorkers. There is a large cast on stage at times, but the focus is between the relationship be Abili's character Paul and Ouisa (played by Manville).

As the play was unfolding, the audience's reactions became more and more intriguing... When the character Paul is revealed for who he is, there was an awful lot of tut tutting going on in the audience, especially when there were the gay references. It started after the full frontal nudity (and a rather unconvincing condom) and then reappeared when another character was describing a sexually provocative ride in Central Park... Maybe it was all that talk that just led to the audience just letting their mind go wild a bit too much. On the other hand, there was a lot of tittering during an unfortunate revolve malfunction during a particularly silent and dramatic part of the play so maybe the audience was just badly behaved.

The play runs a sharp ninety minutes without an interval. Afterwards at the bar discussing what we had seen, the troupe had mixed views about it all. Sure it does take characters, build them up and then completely turn them on their head (or show them having sex), but many just found the characters too unlikable... And perhaps a little too gay... When other gay-ish plays such as Public Property and Prick Up Your Ears also have trouble finding audiences maybe gay isn't so fashionable anymore at the theatre. Well at least not when you have to pay £90 for two top price tickets. Here's hoping it finds an audience as gay gore aside, for me this is a great play and a great looking production and a great cast. Worth catching in its run until April 3.

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