IN BRIEF Superbly written, positive and loving portrait of inter-generational relationships with a ticket-worthy central performance at its heart
February is LGBT History Month, and Martin Sherman’s heartfelt new play GENTLY DOWN THE STREAM (now at the Park Theatre, London, until 16 March) is a welcome highpoint. Covering 14 years, the story shifts and develops in a fluid yet completely natural manner to become a story of love, friendship and support which spans generations in what genuinely feels like a new maturity of writing.
Beau, a 62-year old cocktail pianist meets much younger bipolar Rufus, who is fascinated by the links to the past anchored in Beau’s memories. Instinctively protective of Rufus’s vulnerability as well as his own sensitivity to a long history of painful and deeply felt past relationships, he nevertheless allows this new relationship to bloom. Rufus’s obsession with recording gives rise to him filming Beau’s reminiscences about his past lovers at significant points in time; these lovingly crafted monologues are spotted through the play and delivered with a real intensity that brings them vividly to life and causes the audience to hang on the words.
When the dynamic shifts as Rufus finds himself falling for someone younger, the connection continues as Beau finds himself a valued friend and mentor, and slowly, subtly, each of the men has positive effects upon the others which are revealed along the way.
As Beau, the distinguished Jonathan Hyde gives a detailed, sincere and engaging performance, fully in control of his enormous central role, being onstage for most of the straight-through play’s 100-minute running time; Ben Allen as Rufus and Harry Lawtey as Harry also give great value as their characters grow in dimension through the play’s arc.
In ways both humorous and affecting, Sherman gently brings together the generations with warmth and humanity, to remind us that we all can learn from others if we open ourselves to it. Sherman’s writing is eloquent, empathetic and elegiac, a delight to absorb. Subtly and sensitively directed by Sean Mathias, the play meanders along, like the stream of the title, to a hopeful conclusion. We are spared the extremities of death, but the starting of a new life brings a sense of both hope and shared responsibility.
Just as family stories are passed down through generations, Sherman’s generous and hopeful play is a valuable reminder that the self-made families of LGBTQI people must share their stories across the generations to keep them alive.
GENTLY DOWN THE STREAM is at the Park Theatre, London, until March 16, 2019. Tickets and more information here