mon 22/07/2024

An Audience with Jimmy Savile, Park Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

An Audience with Jimmy Savile, Park Theatre

An Audience with Jimmy Savile, Park Theatre

Controversial play offers responsible reconstruction, but minimal drama

Now then, now then: Alistair McGowan resurrects SavileHelen Maybanks

Seldom has there been such impassioned debate about whether a play has a right to exist. Writer Jonathan Maitland faced a barrage of criticism, with many accusing him of exploitation; others felt it was too soon for freshly unveiled horror to re-emerge on stage. Lead actor Alistair McGowan disagreed, noting Savile’s victims feel the telling of this tale comes “30 years too late”.

Maitland’s 90-minute docudrama, set in 1991, juxtaposes Savile’s public and private personas in an attempt to understand how the monster hid in plain sight. On a This Is Your Life-style show, he’s the roguish “court jester” to an adulatory Prince Charles, knighted by both Thatcher and the Vatican, and unimpeachable national treasure converting staggering popularity into bountiful fundraising. And yet theres Lucy (Leah Whitaker, pictured below), a composite of several victims, raped by Savile aged 12 while recovering in hospital. The authority figures she confided in – nurse, doctor, father, police – all failed her. Now, as her own daughter turns 12, she’s determined to get justice.

An Audience With Jimmy Savile, Park TheatreSaviles real victims were denied legal recourse, so Maitland hopes his play functions as “the trial he never had in his lifetime”. That prosecution extends to the culture that allowed him to act unchecked. Savile boasts membership of a “Friday morning club”, composed of high-ranking establishment figures. We witness a BBC keen to protect its “man of the people” asset, grateful hospital administrators offering unlimited access, police officers burying accusations, journalists intimidated into silence. Despairing Lucy quotes Measure for Measure’s similarly untouchable Angelo: “My false o’erweighs your true.”

As Savile, McGowan performs a skin-crawling conjuring trick. It’s not just the familiar styling – shiny tracksuit, string vest, scraggly blond wig, ever-present cigar – and total command of mannerisms and speech patterns, but a shrewd understanding of this bullying, litigious thug in the guise of a clown who harnessed “the power of odd”. We become sickeningly complicit as the skilled entertainer charms and disarms, until his underlying brutality and foul-mouthed misogyny are revealed, notably in a riveting verbatim police interview. Particularly repellent is his appropriation of Catholic doctrine, arguing his good deeds cancel out the bad: “In the bank of life, I am in the black.”

Yet both Maitland’s play and Brendan O’Heas diligent production prioritise respectful exposition over satisfying drama. Lucy remains an underdeveloped symbol of suffering, and her wish fulfilment climax rings false. Committed Whitaker does offer a devastating moment as Lucy relates her experience of paedophilic rape: too young to understand what was happening, and that she should be scared.

Graham Seed is credible as the manipulated TV presenter, and Charlotte Page and Robert Perkins ably cover several parts, including Savile’s convicted partner-in-crime Ray Teret. The question remains whether this is the right time for such a play, and if this is the right one, but refashioning the legacy of a man who took such pleasure in controlling his own narrative does offer a certain theatrical justice.

Particularly repellent is his appropriation of Catholic doctrine, arguing his good deeds cancel out the bad: 'In the bank of life, I am in the black'


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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