Next week the team at Above The Stag are continuing their season of Jonathan Harvey work which they started with Beautiful Thing and continue with a revival of his 1995 play Rupert Street Lonely Hearts Club. Dave Cross spoke to Jonathan about this play set in 1990s London about two brothers and their crazy neighbours.
Hi Jonathan, what’s the history of Rupert Street Lonely Hearts Club?
Rupert Street Lonely Hearts Club was first performed 23 years ago in Manchester in 1995, before a big tour of the country. It then landed at the Donmar Warehouse in London, before transferring to the West End for a six-month run. It won Best New Play at the Manchester Evening News Awards in 1996 and Best Play in City Life magazine that year. I remember Melvyn Bragg choosing it as his play of the year but thinking my name was Rupert Street.
I got that a lot at awards: ‘Hi Rupert’. I got into some trouble with the Critics’ Circle after I rowed with Evening Standard reviewer Nicholas de Jongh at a party about how vile and personal his review had been. This then merited the headline in Time Out ‘Whine On Harvey Loon’, which I was very proud of!
What’s the basic story and tone?
The play is about the residents of a house in the East End who are all lonely and looking to be loved. At the centre of it are two displaced Liverpool brothers who have recently got in touch after falling out years beforehand. It’s a prophetic tale about what can happen if you don’t learn to love yourself. It also contains some decent jokes. My favourite is ‘I’m twatted.’ ‘Is that a Welsh name?’ It also has the darkest ending of any of my plays.
Can you tell us about the two main characters?
Camp gay elder brother Marti comes round to slap some action into his straight kid brother Shaun, who has sunk into a mini depression with his girlfriend away at a family funeral in Barbados. Marti spent his childhood making Shaun act out scenes from his favourite camp movies, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and the like… But something happened between them a while back that meant they fell out. Badly. All is revealed in what the press of the day referred to as ‘this dinner party from hell is absolute heaven’ – we put that on the poster, of course.
What about the various other characters and their neighbours?
We also meet a left wing teacher, who is the most boring person on the planet; a cross-dressing, group sex-loving McDonald’s worker; and Clarine –
she is suffering from a few problems and thinks she’s Zoë Wanamaker. At the time care in the community was a hot topic of the day and Clarine was an exploration of that. People who hitherto had lived in institutions were suddenly unleashed into the real world and all the problems that ensued.
With the two characters flat sharing and various bonkers neighbours, was this a more serious precursor to Gimme Gimme Gimme?
Well it was certainly my funniest and darkest play to date and it apologetically took no prisoners, and this was the play that made TV producers sit up and go ‘God he can be funny and camp and vile.’ Which, of course, all my friends knew all along.
This is the second of your plays at Above The Stag, were you pleased with the reaction to Beautiful Thing and the production?
Really pleased. It was an honour to be the inaugural play at this fabulous new venue. And it has gender neutral toilets – what’s not to love?
What else is coming up from you at Above The Stag?
I know they’re planning to do a few more of my plays as I’ve been holding the general manager’s shitsu hostage since May and it’s only being released on my 18th press night.