Writer: Simon Bent
Director: Daniel Kramer
Reviewer: John Roberts
There has been somewhat of an Orton revival in the past year, with Loot at the Tricycle, Entertaining Mr Sloane at The Trafalgar Studios, so it was only going to be a matter of time before a theatre biopic of Orton himself made it to the stage.
Taking inspiration from John Lahr’s biography of the same name, Simon Bent has isolated the main push of this production in the small cramped flat of Friend/Lover of Orton’s Kenneth Halliwell (with a well thought out design by Peter McKintosh.) Although the production is very well written with some fantastically observed moments, one can’t help feeling that so much is lost in translation in this production. We never as an audience get to grips with why Orton & Halliwell really need each other, apart from a single line “you can’t write without me” & “You can’t breathe without me” as the only hint at the real core of their relationship.
The production isn’t helped by the direction from Daniel Kramer, although the show lacked any real pace, the first half of the production had some fantastic moments and gave the cast something to really dig deep. The second act lost any of the attention to detail that the first half had and Halliwell’s decline into serious depression is painful to watch. This is perhaps one of the downsides of casting someone in the public eye who is only known for doing comedy. Matt Lucas of Little Britain fame gives a reasonable performance but just doesn’t have the range or emotional weighting to pull off the final scene in this production, instead we see an actor clutching at trying to find real truth for the audience to believe in what is happening and he falls into his comfotable range of grotesque characters more akin to his TV fame than the stage.
The shows saving graces and there are a few lie in Munfords excellent lighting design, which at times is very atmospheric and gives an air of uncertainty, but it’s the performances by Chris New (Orton) and Gwen Taylor (Mrs Cordon) who really give this show the energy and punch it needs. New’s portrayal of Orton is well grounded and gives a rounded and warm performance. Taylor as always gives an energetic performance and never fails to lose the spotlight when she’s on stage.
‘Prick Up Your Ears’ had the possibility of being one of the rare theatre biopics that actually mean something in years to come, unfortunately this is a production doesn’t hit all the right notes to make it so, maybe with different direction and actor playing Halliwell we may get the production that really does ‘Prick Up Your Ears.’
Prick Up Your Ears runs at the Lowry until Sat 5th Sept before transferring to The Comedy Theatre in The West End