Previously performed in at the Public Theater in New York, this excellent production is the UK Premiere of Martin Sherman’s ‘May to December’ love story.
Beau (Jonathan Hyde) a 62-year-old American exile who has recently ventured onto the Gaydar website where he has met Rufus (Ben Allen) a 28-year-old “lowercase” bi-polar lawyer. The play starts with the couple enjoying the afterglow after their first night together. The two converse amicably with Beau slightly irked at Rufus’ obsession with the past, in particular, his time working (he works as a cocktail bar pianist) with Mabel Mercer. It is not long before Rufus moves into Beau’s flat and the two enjoy life as a couple, spending cosy nights in watching DVDs. When Rufus, says it is in the flat where he feels happiest and also suggests they enter into a Civil Partnership. Beau responds to this by saying that Rufus should meet other men. However, Beau is hurt when Rufus first mentions Harry (Harry Lawtey), a performance artist he has recently met. (I enjoyed the scene after Rufus has moved out of the flat, Beau sits alone and tries to eat ice cream only for it to be too frozen to eat with his spoon!).
Whilst there are plenty of scenes involving all the characters. The play is interspersed throughout their story, which is set over a 13 year period, to monologues from Beau. One describes his return to his home town of New Orleans for his final meeting with his father known as Big Al; their meeting did not go well ending with his father telling him to go east as “his life would be easier”. He then speaks about former boyfriends including George, who he had a relationship with but who sadly died in his arms a few months later. Later, during his best man speech at Rufus’s wedding, he speaks of a great love affair with Kip who sadly perished in an arson attack upstairs in a Bar in New Orleans.
Martin Sherman’s well-written script flows and is emotive, thoughtful and witty. It has been updated to include, towards the end, a wry reference to the UK and the EU!
Jonathan Hyde gives a stellar performance as Beau. His delivery showing a full range of emotions, particularly during the monologues. Hyde works well with Ben Allen who gives an excellent portrayal of the younger, eccentric Rufus. The two are further complemented by Harry Lawtey who gives a great performance as the tattooed, Harry (Lawtey also shows good vocal talent during a scene when we are treated to the sight of Harry the performance artist).
The set is split level; with the staircase/landing part being used to great effect for Beau’s monologues. Sean Mathias direction is well paced; whilst Jamie Platt’s lighting and Lex Kosanke’s great soundtrack also help enhance the piece.
The play’s final scene is delightful; Beau’s rendition of “row, row, row your boat …..” ensuring you leave the theatre with a smile on your face. Gently Down The Stream is a remarkable piece of theatre and well worth going to see.
Review by Karen Pond
This passionate new play by Olivier and Tony-award nominee Martin Sherman makes its UK debut 40 years after his celebrated modern classic Bent, which subsequently became a major film directed by Olivier and Tony-award nominee Sean Mathias (No Man’s Land), who directs this production of Gently Down The Stream, marking Martin Sherman’s 80th birthday.
Starring acclaimed star and screen actor Jonathan Hyde in a rare London performance, Ben Allen (Oppenheimer, West End) and Harry Lawtey (The Country Wife, Chichester Festival Theatre), the play follows the remarkably moving and brilliantly funny love story of Beau, an older American pianist living in London, and Rufus, an eccentric young lawyer. Coming of age during the 70s, Beau’s attitude to love has been seasoned by a life of loving men in a world that initially refused to allow it. Not looking for a long-term relationship, Beau is naturally cautious when Rufus unexpectedly enters his world.
However, while the age gap feels unorthodox to Beau, it is immaterial to Rufus, who is from a new generation of gay men. Rufus has none of Beau’s doubts about the possibility of attaining happiness and love in the 21st Century and as he assimilates himself into Beau’s past and present, Beau learns to embrace Rufus as one of the most defining relationships of his life.
As generations intertwine, Gently Down The Stream reveals the journey of gay history and celebrates the men and women who led the way for equality, marriage and the right to dream.
Gently Down The Stream
By Martin Sherman
Directed by Sean Mathias
Designed by Lee Newby
Cast: Jonathan Hyde, Ben Allen & Harry Lawtey
Booking to 16th March 2019