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John Yap

Review: TORCH SONG at The Turbine Theatre

Torch Song - Turbine Theatre Double celebrations! The new Turbine Theatre opens with a timely “revival” of the iconic gay classic TORCH SONG. It’s by Harvey Fierstein, famed for the scripts of LA CAGE AUX FOLLES & KINKY BOOTS, amongst many other plays and musicals.

Feirstein originally premiered his play over two evenings as three short plays entitled TORCH SONG TRILOGY. He has since condensed the three plays into one 2 Acts Play and premiered it in October 2017 at the Second Stage Theatre in New York which later transferred to the Helen Hayes Theatre on Broadway in November 2018. Now thanks to The Turbine Theatre, we are fortunate to see it here in London.

We follow the ups and downs of Arnold’s life adventures in New York in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s. From his drag acts, to the back rooms of New York’s gay scene. From the disappointments and triumphs of his love life to complicated familial relationships.

Arnold, being the “Drama Queen” naturally gets involved in several of these, first with Ed, his bi-sexual lover, then with Ed’s wife, Laurel, then Alan his boyfriend, with his adopted teenage son, David (also gay) and finally with his bigoted and overbearing Jewish mother.

Arnold’s recipe for his survival in these circumstances and situations is to treat his life as the “Torch” songs that he sings in his act. Torch Songs are sentimental songs of lament (of lost love, abandonment, soured romantic relationships etc.) and are always sung with such feeling and integrity that they are perfectly synonymous with Arnold’s life.

Directed with fluidity and flair by Drew McOnie, the extraordinary young and talented Choreographer who has already given us such notable productions as the Internationally acclaimed JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, IN THE HEIGHTS, KING KONG (Broadway) etc. and is now poised to become one of our future drama Directors of note.

Matthew Needham, who last impressed us as John Buchannan in the Almeida Theatre’s award winning production of SUMMER AND SMOKE, plays Arnold with aplomb. The handsome and well toned Dino Fetscher plays the bi-sexual lover Ed convincingly. Bernice Stegers was perfect as the overbearing Jewish mother, Ma. Daisy Boulton (Laurel), Rish Shah (Alan) and Jay Lycurgo (David) complete the rounded company of this excellent production.

It is extraordinary and amazing to think that in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s when Aids and anti-gay prejudice were rampant in the USA, Harvey Fierstein wrote a Gay Play that is actually a life affirming fantasy. This may well be Fierstein’s own fantasy to counter the sadness, tragedies and bigotries that were all around him at the time.

True, there are heartaches, sadness, disappointments and tragedy in the play but there was never any bitterness. Bravo to The Turbine Theatre and Company for giving us such a warm and enjoyable production of TORCH SONG.

If you want to be entertained and leave the theatre with a warm glow, go and see this iconic gay play at the new Turbine Theatre.