Torch Song Lights Up The New Turbine Theatre

Torch Song, The Turbine Theatre ★★★★☆

By Neil Dowden Last edited 53 months ago

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Torch Song Lights Up The New Turbine Theatre Torch Song, The Turbine Theatre 4
Photo: Mark Senior

The Turbine Theatre is the latest in a host of new theatres opening in London this year. Part of the massive Battersea Power Station re-development, it is a new intimate studio space within a railway bridge arch. With financial backing from impresario Bill Kenwright and under the artistic directorship of Paul Taylor-Mills (who formerly ran Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Other Palace), it bears the hashtag 'powering the imagination'. And its opening show, Harvey Fierstein's Tony Award-winning Torch Song, certainly re-energises a ground-breaking work.

This is Fierstein's 2017 revised version that cuts by almost half his original trilogy about gay life in seventies New York. In three parts it follows the fluctuating relationships of drag queen Arnold Beckoff: from casual sex in the back room of a gay club, to falling for a bisexual man who gets married, from grieving for another lover who is killed, to adopting a child and becoming estranged from his mother. Despite its slightly disjointed structure, the play is an engaging account of one man's search for true love, sometimes poignant and other times hilarious.

Photo: Marc Senior

Although best known for his work on musicals, director Drew McOnie (who won an Olivier for his choreography of the hit musical In the Heights) helms the show with assurance, as it moves from monologues to duologues and group interaction. Designer Ryan Dawson Laight economically shifts the action from cabaret dressing room to bedroom and kitchen, with each act denoted by a neon sign.

On stage virtually the whole time as Arnold, Matthew Needham gives a terrific performance suggesting both emotional vulnerability and a survivor's toughness, often delivered with biting humour. Dino Fetscher also impresses as his unreliable lover Ed who is confused about his own identity. And Bernice Stegers is hilarious as Arnold's overbearing Jewish Ma, in denial about her son's sexuality which he embraces so wholeheartedly.

Torch Song, Turbine Theatre, Arches Lane, Circus West Village, SW11 8AB, £33. Until 13 October

Last Updated 10 September 2019