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Review of Le Grand Mort at Trafalgar Studio Two

Le Grand Mort - James Nelson-Joyce (Tim) and Julian Clary (Michael) Photo Scott Rylander
Le Grand Mort – James Nelson-Joyce (Tim) and Julian Clary (Michael) Photo Scott Rylander

Le Grand Mort has a rather ‘grand’ set, all things considered. As the audience quickly discovers, there’s a fully functioning kitchen on stage. There are people like me who tend to survive on cheap supermarket meal deals, ready meals, takeaways and the occasional self-prepared sandwich. Some other theatregoers whose kitchens serve a more functional purpose than mine were more keenly observant on the exact method in which Michael (Julian Clary) was preparing dinner for two (or supper, if that is what the evening meal should be properly called).

The whole food preparation thing only really acts as a vehicle for which Michael can invite Tim (James Nelson-Joyce) over for some food, conversation and – well, whatever it is that consenting adults do in private, if you catch my drift. For me, however, the whole kitchen business was rather superfluous. They could just have easily have gone to a restaurant, and then asked, “Your place or mine?” Except proceedings don’t progress as conventionally as might be expected, and in the plot twists, there is much to maintain a degree of interest. Part of the play’s beauty lies in what isn’t said as much as what is spoken, and both men aren’t always telling the truth, or at least not plainly. The mind games are fascinating, and the script is so dense, going from the philosophical to the banal and back again.

This, then, is not a play that will appeal to absolutely everyone. In the early scenes, there’s the sense that this is Julian Clary in a play playing a part that is suspiciously similar to Julian Clary’s usual onstage persona on the stand-up comedy circuit. As the play goes on, however, Michael’s character development veers progressively further away from just being outrageous and risqué and starts to demonstrate a more tender and vulnerable nature. Before the relative poignancy of the final scenes, however, comes plenty of vulgarity (for that is what it is), with the sort of punchlines that had much (but, tellingly, not all) of the audience in cahoots. As Michael points out, “If you’re not shocked, I wouldn’t want to see your porn collection. Or perhaps I would.

A running theme of, um, manhoods became a tad repetitive after a while. A very long monologue by Michael comes close to becoming a university seminar, particularly in a discussion about grammatical constructs and how it is possible to “intimate (verb) the intimate (noun)”. But as the characters get to know one another, more and more skeletons come out of their respective closets. In a way, it was a pity that it ended when it did, and as abruptly as it did, but then there’s nothing wrong with leaving the audience wanting more.

The relationship between the two characters is curious, though part of that may have something to do with the narrative not being in strict chronological order. This is also a rare occasion in which the music that accompanied scene changes did not only summarily fail to irritate me, but proved to be lively and catchy. In the course of name-dropping a large number of known historical figures from Tutankhamun to Elvis Presley, the play’s language is sometimes poetic and succinct.

Now, there’s as much to be seen of James Nelson-Joyce’s Tim in this production as there was to be seen of Jack O’Connell’s Brick in the summer 2017 West End production of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. Clary’s comedy experience, meanwhile, shines through both in faultless timing and a sublime delivery, making the script punch above its weight. All in all, this show is both an amusing and thought-provoking experience.

4 stars
Review by Chris Omaweng

In his super stylish, sterilely beautiful Notting Hill kitchen, Michael is preparing dinner for two. As he meticulously cuts the vegetables with almost a surgeon’s precision, he talks, with knife-like wit, about cases in history where the human body has continued to prove useful even after death. As he slices and chops, one wonders who is coming for dinner and what the main course might be. When Tim, his young guest arrives, they engage in a series of funny, thrilling but searingly dangerous mind games, as they try to unravel the reasons why they are both there. Only when the games turn deadly do they catch a glimpse of the sadness and loss within each of them, that enables them to at least begin to connect with the truth, using whatever damaged shreds of humanity they still have left.

Julian Clary said: “In 2010 Stephen Clark took me out to lunch in Camden and told me he’d like to write a play for me. How lovely, how flattering, how unusual! Over the following few years I got the occasional email from Stephen saying ‘I haven’t forgotten the play!’ but I decided he’d probably thought better of it. We were both busy with life, work and in Stephen’s case, some serious health issues. Then, one day in 2013, it arrived. A funny, dark, beautiful play…Le Grand Mort will take me so far out of my comfort zone I may never return.”

Trafalgar Studio Two
14 Whitehall, London, SW1A 2DY
Booking Until: 28th Oct 2017

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