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The Local Stigmatic at the Old Red Lion Theatre – Review

The Local Stigmatic - Old Red Lion Theatre - Tom Sawyer
The Local Stigmatic – Old Red Lion Theatre – Tom Sawyer – © Scott Rylander

What is a sociopath? Well, according to the dictionary, “a sociopath is a person with a personality disorder manifesting itself in extreme antisocial attitudes and behaviour.” That definition sounds bland to be honest. Looking through the news pages of the internet, you can get a much better idea of what a sociopath is – and believe me it’s not nice. So, if one sociopath is bad news, imagine what two together could be like. If you really want to find out then pop along to the Old Red Lion in Islington where they are celebrating the 50th anniversary of Heathcote Williams’ The Local Stigmatic.

Graham (Wilson James) and Ray (William Frazer) are two working-class chaps who spend their days debating absolutely nothing, bickering with each other, betting on greyhound races and reading the gossip columns in the newspapers. All well and good then you might think. But no, both Graham and Ray have one other thing in common, they are both complete sociopaths. Whilst sitting in a pub one day having a drink, Graham and Ray spot a famous actor, David (Tom Sawyer) who is one of the celebrities that the lads follow in the papers. As you would expect, they introduce themselves to David and the three of them share a drink together before leaving the pub.

The Local Stigmatic is an odd play. It was written in 1966 and is set around that time. It is in a naturalist style and feels as if we, the audience, are just dropping in on the lives of Ray and Graham for a brief spell as opposed to a standard narrative that starts and ends somewhere definite.  As the show finished, in my mind, I just saw Graham and Ray heading off for their next adventure, their encounter with David just being another part of their lives.

Both Wilson and William were really good in their respective roles. Really good I say, what I mean is they were terrifying. At one point I looked away from the performers so as to ensure I didn’t make eye contact with them. Wilson James’ Graham was loud and brash, sounding like he was always just a small trigger away from going ballistic, an impression that was reinforced by his eyes which looked one step away from completely fruit-loops. William Frazer’s Ray was menacing in a different way. Again the eyes were a big part of it as was his almost delicate but very deliberate movement, with his body looking as taught as a wound up spring ready to be released. Together, these two really filled the small stage area with the strength of their personalities and physical presence. Finally a quick word on Tom Sawyer. Although not as visible as the other actors, Tom’s dual roles as the Man and David are both pivotal to the story especially, I thought, the Man, which is the first time we really get to see the randomness of Ray and Graham’s behaviour.

Director Michael Toumey has put together a very tight production with an extremely light set – a single armchair and a pub table with three chairs pretty much sum it up – that serves well, thanks to Tom Kitney’s excellent lighting design. Also a quick mention to Sound Designer Neil McKeown, who uses some very appropriate music throughout the play.  Although being a mid 60’s piece, there are some points that are still very relevant today. For example, Graham ‘follows’ the actor David through the gossip columns of newspapers, in the same way that Joe public ‘follows’ various celebrities via Twitter, Facebook and other social media. In fact, the first time that Ray mentioned Graham follows David, it threw me completely as my mind immediately went to Twitter – which hopefully doesn’t mean I am somewhere on the sociopath scale.

Summing up then. The Local Stigmatic is an odd piece. If I’m honest, I’m not 100% sure I fully understood what the author was going for with this story. However, I found the characters mesmerising and, although at times, it did not make easy watching, overall the production and performance of the play was really good leaving me feeling my visit to Islington on a Friday night had been well worth it.

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

Graham and Ray are two working class sociopaths who idly spend their days gambling on the dogs, debating, bickering, and reading the newspaper gossip columns. A chance encounter with a mildly famous actor reveals their true psychotic nature as the pair begin to play a cruel and manipulative game. Misfits, disturbed, damaged and broken by their social boundaries, Graham and Ray then choose to take their animosity towards this individual to the very brink, culminating in a truly horrifying conclusion.

The Local Stigmatic is a sinister, deeply disturbing study of psychosis, fame, obsession and envy. Darkly comical at times, it reveals an element of society and its fascination with ‘celebrity’, but also the resentment that it can provoke.

First staged at The Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh in 1966, before transferring to The Royal Court in the same year, The Local Stigmatic is considered by many to be a ‘Cult Classic’, and still appears as relevant in today’s celebrity obsessed culture. The play was consequently made into a film in 1990 with Al Pacino both producing and playing the role of Graham. Powerful, highly provocative and profoundly shocking, The Local Stigmatic now finally returns to the London stage to mark it’s 50th Anniversary.

3rd – 28th May 2016
Tuesday – Saturday at 7:30pm
Saturday & Sunday matinees 3pm
Running time: 60 mins (no interval)
(Age Guidance – 14+)


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