Like a kind of LGBT time-warping Howard’s End, The Pride shows how relationships, sex, self-worth and fate are intricately entwined with the society and period we live in.
Using parallel twin narratives, the play – now showing at Hope Mill Theatre – highlights the differences in fate of three characters, predicated on social expectations and attitudes, and ultimately how redemption is socially defined and therefore not always for the best.
In 1958 Philip and Sylvia are in a loveless but sympathetic marriage, which is disrupted by Sylvia’s colleague and friend Oliver falling in love with her husband.
In 2008 drunken sex addict Oliver, recently dumped by his partner Philip because of one too many anonymous sexual encounters in the park, is consoled by his best friend Sylvia.
Throughout the production themes of loneliness, identity, and exploitation contour the actions of the characters, many of whom feel compelled to act in ways which are against their nature.
There is some nuanced social commentary; Oliver’s alcoholism brought on by gay shame; the latent sexism that can exist between gay men and their female friends; by-turns hilarious and abhorrent scene between Oliver and a lad’s mag editor; and a motif about anonymous sex which runs throughout, culminating in a line which encompasses the play’s message entirely.
The material is serious and some of the scenes are difficult viewing and, whilst this is arguably necessary, it can feel gratuitous.
However, the staging is perfect and the layout of Hope Mill is ideal for feeling as though you’re witnessing the intimate drama of three people’s interconnected relationships unfold.
The performances are on the whole stellar, with every cast member bringing a mixture of humour, sorrow, anger, and love to this stage.
Particularly engaging is Joanna Lees’ portrayal of Sylvia, performing her acute desperation for a human connection from her husband.
Similarly Simon Hallman’s portrayal of the lonely Oliver is fantastic, playing sensitive and lost in the 1950s and fantastically jaded in the present day.
It is difficult to invest in the contemporary characters, who come off as repugnantly bourgeois, although there is some tongue in cheek gags at the expense of this which make them more palatable.
Likewise, there are a few-too-many world weary, meaning of life monologues which rob the acting of some subtext.
At times it feels as though some of the existential truths being aired could be teased out through dialogue rather than long winded self-divulgence.
Despite this, overall The Pride is an enjoyable experience with interesting characters, great performances, thought-provoking content, and a warm ending despite some of its harrowing moments.
It’s a tale of love and lust, but also of interconnectedness and the ever-present shadow of social pressure on our shoulder.
*The Pride is playing at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester until Saturday, October 20. You can buy tickets HERE.