Torch Song Trilogy
The only torch worth turning out to see in Britain
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Confession – until the Menier Chocolate Factory recently restaged Harvey Fierstein’s 1978 play, I’d never seen Torch Song Trilogy. Obviously not on stage, nor via YouTube or even the now classic 1988 movie version.
So I’m unable to compare this new London version to the original four-hour production, or to long-past endless standing ovations for the people who have played drag queen Arnold previously. And that’s a good thing, because David Bedella is brilliant in the role and if that’s my lasting memory from Torch Song Trilogy in future then I’m thrilled.
Bedella is the best thing about Torch Song Trilogy – though all of the cast are delightful – with a performance that’s hilarious one moment and heartbreaking the next. Of particular note is when he plays opposite the wonderful Sara Kestelman as his bigoted mother.
A tale of, obviously, three parts, the scene is set in The International Stud when Arnold meets Ed (Joe McFadden) in a gay bar and their rocky relationship begins. The action moves forward some years for Fugue In A Nursery when Arnold and Ed decide to spend a weekend together with their new partners. Things then come to a head in Widows and Children First, which again moves the timeline on at a rapid pace and introduces more of Arnold’s family than you might expect. Although I’m intrigued to see a version of the production as originally intended regards running time, the abridged version still packs a punch.
While it was written in the late 70s, and you can’t argue that things are better now when it comes to same-sex relationships, Torch Song Trilogy is as relevant (and poignant) now as it would have been when it was first staged. Bedella’s performance is so moving that he almost brings you to tears.
It serves as a reminder that although things may well have changed, it’s still not easy to be heard when you’re in a minority and that relationships in general are still as complicated and difficult as ever – but oh boy is the journey good.
And that’s the beauty of Torch Song Trilogy – it’s a journey you can relate to, no matter who you are.
Until 12 August, Menier Chocolate Factory, Southwark Road, London, tickets and details. Image: Catherine Ashmore