Review: Harvey Fierstein’s Casa Valentina at Southwark Playhouse

© Robert Workman

With men in heels seemingly the theme of the West End currently – with Kinky Boots and Rocky Horror firmly planting themselves in London this week – it come with an enjoyable relief that Harvey Fierstein’s new play Casa Valentina joined them; without any form of musical arrangement in sight.

A play staged in the early 60’s, it follows the joining of a group of guys – all of varying ages – and their retreat to a place where heterosexual men can forget about their wives, families and jobs, and join in a world where to cross-dress is seen as an everyday happening.

Written by playwright Harvey Fierstein, his hilarious and regularly touching piece of writing giving you the chance to see life from a diifferent angle. Not that of inner beauty or desires but one where being extravert, flamboyant and strutting around in heels isn’t connected to your sexuality. Where being yourself is to lust for the desires of female clothing.

© Robert Workman

© Robert Workman

With each male and his female personality having two differing names, it does become a little difficult at times to keep up with the pace and quick natured dialogue that does make the piece seem somewhat shorter than it actually is. From make up problems to acceptance and even the difficult moments of where sexuality becomes an issue for some, you’re at curtain call in a time that feels as if you’re only just beginning to understand the why.

However, it’s not all quite as joyous as is first seems. Luke Sheppard’s production is intense in its intentions – set on four sides with staging placed behind audience seats and in front – but does regularly exclude large proportions though moments that really shouldn’t be missed. Delicate revelations and admittance lost due to poor direction and placement of a character means that you are left feeling somewhat cold by the end; however quick the does come. Although warmed through the daring nature of the production and an ensemble of actors that are placed well in their roles, you almost care little for anyone beyond the leading two in George (Valentina) and wife Rita.

© Robert Workman

© Robert Workman

With Ben Deery, Ashley Robinson, Gareth Snook, Matt Rixon, Edward Wolstenholme, Bruce Montague and Robert Morgan leading the ensemble of visitors to Casa Valentina, witty interpretations, sensitive withdrawal when unsure at their public outing of cross dressing or even determination to play characters that could so easily be portrayed as pantomimic dames give heart and honesty to the piece – in most part.

Joined by Tamin Carroll as George’s wife Rita, her strong and emotional close displays the lengths in which love really can be pushed if needed for the one that you truly need. Carroll is a clear standout for the piece.

© Robert Workman

© Robert Workman

Raising questions around sexuality is always a wonderful question for theatre. But with a show that asks why the choice to live your life and not hide feelings to the way you portray yourself externally – slightly differing of being unable to stop feelings from inside as is the usual norm – is one that is deserving of great credit.

Cast Valentina may not be littered with perfection, but it’s a fresh and new take on why we all should come to accept those for who they are – or even here; want to be.

GT gives Casa Valentina – 4/5

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