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Stuart King

Review: GENTLY DOWN THE STREAM at Park Theatre

Gently Down The StreamVeteran wordsmith Martin Sherman whose play “Bent” catapulted him onto the world stage some 40 years ago, is the gentle and occasionally caustic wit, behind Park Theatre’s most recent dabble with success.

Gently Down the Stream”, arrived at the north London venue following a previously successful run at New York’s Public Theater, and (following the announcement this week of an Olivier Award Nomination - Outstanding Achievement in Affiliate Theatre for its lead Jonathan Hyde), it may yet secure a West End transfer.

Set in a London warehouse conversion where a baby grand piano vies for attention with shabby chic furniture and a plain black staircase buttressed to the bare brickwork, this is the tale of Beau (Hyde), a transplanted New Orleans gennelmun ova cert’nage whose first fling with an online dating app conjoins him (against his better judgement) with a considerably younger British guy Rufus (Ben Allen), who morphs from ‘Daddy fancier with a slightly odd fixation for accompaniment pianists’ to disillusioned, bi-polar, mergers & acquisitions lawyer.

Their’s is an odd coupledom on several levels, but they make it work until the age gap compels the older man to paint a picture of advancing decrepitude which prompts the younger to seek-out another, debatably more suitable mate, Harry (Harry Lawtey). Post-blurted revelation, we spend the next half hour witnessing Beau’s immediate shock; we meet Harry the flamboyant, tattooed replacement love interest; experience Ben’s moving-out and the arrival of the younger guys’ baby daughter and subsequent introduction to Uncle Beau(regard), who meanwhile has been recounting tales of those few meaningful ‘other relationships’ in his life before the one we saw develop during the first section of the play.

As the older, self-disparaging guy, Beau gets to deliver the choicest cuts from Sherman’s spicy platter of sardonicism, but there’s no hint of world-weary bitterness - instead, a gentle parade of life experiences and pithy poignancy in Sean Matthias’ evenly directed interpretation. And whilst the piece doesn’t swoop and dive-bomb the audience with devastating emotional turmoil, it’s more measured and humanist attempt to explore lives drawn from differing generations and differing times, is definitely of the moment.