The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide..., Hampstead Theatre, review: ‘Excellently performed’

PUBLISHED: 17:30 02 November 2016

Tamsin Grieg in The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalsm and Socialist with a Key to the Scriptures at Hampstead Theatre. Picture: Manuel Harlan

Tamsin Grieg in The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalsm and Socialist with a Key to the Scriptures at Hampstead Theatre. Picture: Manuel Harlan

Archant

A sprawling epic tackling everything from socialism and belief systems to cultural heritage and sexuality via one Italian-American family

At three and a half hours, and with a title that won’t fit on a ticket, Tony Kushner’s latest is a daunting prospect: a sprawling epic tackling everything from socialism and belief systems to cultural heritage and sexuality via one Italian-American family.

Former union activist and staunch Communist Gus is disillusioned by an unchanging world. He plans to sell their Brooklyn brownstone while the market’s favourable (the play’s set in 2007, offering economic gallows humour) and then take his own life. His adult children have their own dramas: daughter Empty’s lesbian partner is pregnant via her brother V, while other brother Pill is cheating on his husband with a rent boy. There’s an entire series’ worth of soap opera plots bubbling around the edges of ferocious intellectual debate.

At best, that results in electrifying polyphonic arguments, with the family talking over one another at an almost incomprehensible rate; at worst, the drama stalls for another Kushner seminar on Marxist dialectic, Horace, Christian science or George Bernard Shaw – the latter referenced by the play, along with Miller and Chekhov.

Michael Boyd’s sure production occasionally bows under the weight of lengthily explored ideas.

The cast keeps us engaged, particularly David Calder as a belligerent but vulnerable Gus, and Tamsin Greig as sharp labour lawyer Empty – their close but fractious relationship the most effectively integrated with political theory. There’s good support from Richard Clothier’s self-loathing Pill, Luke Newberry’s millennial hustler and a scene-stealing Sara Kestelman as deadpan aunt Clio.

Tom Piper’s revolving set offers a deconstructed dollhouse – both grand and claustrophobic. If more dramatised conversation than consistently gripping theatre, it’s still teeming with ideas and excellently performed.

Rating: 3/5 stars


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