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Love! Valour! Compassion! at Bridewell Theatre

This show is about the lives of people affected by a pandemic. I realise that’s hardly a selling point in 2022, except to say Love! Valour! Compassion!, which won the Tony Award and the Evening Standard Theatre Award for Best Play in 1995, amongst other accolades, is set in the early Nineties, when HIV/AIDS was still a largely fatal rather than chronic disease. It is therefore somewhat removed from the Covid pandemic and yet relatable: the characters feel as though they are walking on eggshells, there is heightened uncertainty as to what will happen next, and some throw caution to the wind because they only get one life, while others prefer to be more cautious – because they only get one life.

Love! Valour! Compassion!
Love! Valour! Compassion!

Plays of this nature also go some way to explaining, without being preachy, the prevailing attitudes of most older LGBT+ people with regards to more recent public health restrictions: they recall losing friends and partners to a pandemic, and would rather not do so again. Of course, straight people have, for the most part, abided by ‘the rules’ too. It is telling, though, that the play begins with the cast sitting on a row of chairs, all wearing face coverings. The production offers no further comment on this point, and with the coverings swiftly removed before the dialogue begins, it is left to the audience to determine whether the show wishes to make a connection between pandemics, and/or is (not so) subtly asserting that queer (the show’s programme’s choice of word) voices are still being overlooked and even, metaphorically speaking, gagged.

Few, if any, of the eight men portrayed are particularly likeable, though this is to a certain extent because the play exposes their flaws, which in turn makes them more human. The play is set in a second home, if you will, belonging to Gregory Mitchell (James Daly) and his partner Bobby Brahms (Simon Brooke). The former is a renowned choreographer and the latter works in the legal profession and is registered blind. The house is, by city-dweller standards, in the middle of nowhere, such that one would be forgiven for having the impression that other gay men are the only people Gregory and Bobby even give the time of day to. Only occasional references in the dialogue make it clear this isn’t the case.

Neither does the play shy away from stereotypes, especially in the form of Buzz Hauser (Jacob Hajjar), a musical theatre fan and a costume designer, in that order, who admits he is too intense to keep a boyfriend for very long. He does, at least, raise smiles amongst audience patrons who also enjoy musicals, peppering the dialogue with musical references, even if these are unappreciated by the other characters. Completing the set of on-stage characters are John Jeckyll (Rob Ingham), a British composer (Ingham also plays John’s twin brother James), and his partner Ramon Fornos (Fernando Cahnfeld), a young dancer from Puerto Rico, and attorney Perry Sellars (Robbie Fulford) and his partner, accountant Arthur Pape (Lewis McKenzie).

As the dialogue acknowledges, this isn’t a musical, so there’s no obligation to provide the audience with a happy ending. Indeed, there’s a lot of squabbling, and a lot of sleeping around, so much so that part of me wonders whether they should have gone all the way and had an orgy. The characters address the audience directly, which helps maintain interest, especially as they often speak in retrospect, providing insight as well as the recollection of events.

It seems to be about anything and everything, and in dealing with a large range of topics and themes, it glosses over some of them. I’m not sure whether the sheer amount of nudity was strictly necessary either: the show is far more about how people love one another (or, indeed, not) than it is about bedroom activity itself. With three acts stretching the running time almost to three hours, it felt, frankly, a bit too long. A large piece of set is periodically manually rotated by members of the company – I couldn’t figure out for the life of me what purpose that ultimately served. Still, a hardworking cast individually and collectively demonstrate a fully comprehensive range of human emotions in this ambitious production.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Winner of the 1995 Tony Award for Best Play, Love! Valour! Compassion! is a monumental exploration into life, love and loss at the end of the millennium.

The three-act gay epic returns to London for the first time since its original 1998 off West End run, produced by acclaimed amateur theatre society, Sedos.

As hilarious as it is heart-breaking, Terrence McNally’s seminal work captures the zeitgeist of 90s America and forces the question – when reality hits home, who and what is most important to us?

GREGORY | James Daly
ARTHUR | Lewis McKenzie
PERRY | Robbie Fulford
JOHN / JAMES | Rob Ingham
BUZZ | Jacob Hajjar
BOBBY | Simon Brooke
RAMON | Fernando Cahnfeld

DIRECTOR and DESIGNER | Robert J. Stanex
PRODUCER | Rebecca Chisholm

Love! Valour! Compassion!
By Terrence McNally

Tuesday 5-Friday 8 July at 7.30pm
Saturday 9 July at 5pm

Bridewell Theatre
Bride Lane, off Fleet Street, London EC4Y 8EQ

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