By Neil Durham
WORTH A LOOK?: ***
WHEN?: Saturday 12 February (matinee), runs to 19 March 2022
It’s Steven’s birthday, he’s in a restaurant with his partner and their best friends – and a secret is uncovered.
- Read on for reasons including how Holby City star David Ames is the revelation here
David Ames, probably best known although not to us from BBC1’s Holby City, ponders growing older and less sexually desirable as the world around him crumbles during his midlife crisis.
His best friend and blogger Carrie is memorably and vividly drawn by Olivier winner Jenna Russell (Doctor Faustus, Duke of York’s) and it is their relationship – frank, brutal, warm and funny – that is the heart and soul of this original play enjoying its European premiere.
Steven’s partner Stephen (confusing, right?) Joe Aaron Reid (Dreamgirls, Savoy) is sexting mutual friend Brian while Brian’s boyfriend is contemplating life as a throuple with their much younger trainer moving in to their apartment.
There’s an onstage pianist underscoring the domestic dramas with the best of dearly departed composer Stephen Sondheim at this intimate West End venue we’re visiting for the 1st time.
Ames is the quiet revelation here. He’s not an actor we’ve previously been very aware of but here he gives life to the agony (and occasional esctasy) of middle age in a way that America’s Shakespeare – the titular Sondheim – very much did in his musical work.
We’ve seen Russell sing onstage before – with Harington in Doctor Faustus who we were supposed to see tonight as Henry V a stone’s throw from this theatre at the Donmar but that’s another Covid story – and assumed, given the Sondheim referencing, that she would do here but she doesn’t yet still gives a vivid portrait of a woman who has fallen out of love with her girlfriend yet is embracing the tragedy of her situation with humour, dignity and love.
While the preoccupation of texting in STEVE feels a little done before and better, we weren’t expecting to be quite so moved in particular by Ames’ performance.
Director Andrew Keates (As Is and Dark Sublime at Trafalgar Studios) says in the programme: ‘The older I get the more I notice the tick-tock of clocks, my hair turning grey, my stomach softening and the lack of heads turn as they might once have when I was a twink in my 20s.
‘Nowadays I hide in piano bars in a forgiving shirt listening to gentler, familiar melodies, when once I’d stood upon a podium in noisy clubs roaring at the top of my voice – sometimes defiantly – sometimes without a care in the world.’
Seven Dials Playhouse, with its onstage bar tended by Nico Conde as Esteban, was certainly a boutique venue we look forward to returning to again – and again.