Staircase at Southwark Playhouse: Press night review by Stephen Vowles 

Staircase by Charles Dyer is a rousing look at a period in gay history where the heavy arm of the law weighed over gay men in 1960’s London; with the threat of prison and substantial fines the world of gay men in this period was a select, secret and very private one.  

The two actors John Sackville as Charles Dyer and Paul Rider as Harry Leeds inhabit their respective roles with an elegance and flair. They use the barber shop’s props – the play is set in “Chez Harry” in Brixton in 1965 – to great visual effect. The scene where they are buffing their already manicured nails is a perfect example of their great skill in putting their characters across.

The play is laced with sardonic one liners. A verbal tennis match. A bitch fest, crisp in execution and where a ‘gag’ is set up and the audience is allowed to wallow in the script. The dialogue is presented with the speed of an express steam train at full throttle.

This is where Dyer as the playwright is clever creating a rhythm that is both dark and gloomy in places but also carries an air of optimism. This is also an intriguing look at the manners and minds of two gay men combating feelings of loneliness, bitterness, self created and put upon recriminations and the need for a mutual companionship which is paramount to their existence, to win or lose life’s battles. 

This is an emotionally charged play brought to life by director Tricia Thorns with a tenderness that works well. The pathos of the play is also examined in fine detail with the Leeds character telling the Dyer character: “I can lend you memories but you never listen”.

The slightly dated feel to the play adds to the charm of it as you see what it was like after the 1957 Wolfenden Report but before the 1967 Sexual Offences Act when homosexuality was still illegal.

Stylish, witty and worthy of view. Fabulous!


Photos by Phil Gammon

Staircase runs to Saturday 17th July, Southwark Playhouse, 77-85 Newington Causeway, London SE1 6BD. Box office: 020 7407 0234 

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