“I think I’m going to get quietly mad”
There’s something eerily prescient in Heathcote Williams’ play The Local Stigmatic as it talks about people ‘following’ famous people to get all the news and gossip from their Z-list lives. Prescient, because it was written in 1966, before any of the four founders of Twitter had even been born, never mind co-opted the verb ‘to follow’, and before the celebrity culture that is so prevalent today had really taken hold.
From their South London bedsit with its poster-filled walls, Graham and Ray are two of the angry young men so beloved by the kitchen sink drama movement of the time. Constantly poring over the pages of the newspaper, they’re either getting tips for betting on the dogs, soaking up every last tidbit of celebrity gossip or arguing in the detached, sociopathic manner that makes them a menace to society, a threat that becomes all too real when they bump into a minor actor in the pub.
Michael Toumey’s production for the Old Red Lion marks the 50th anniversary of the play and though there’s elements of the storytelling that remain powerfully pertinent today, there’s also a feeling of dustiness about it. The linguistic obliqueness is Pinteresque, relationships elliptical if not evasive, even its design feeling like a distinct nod to its period origins. And in all honesty, to use the technical term, it just didn’t do it for me.
Wilson James’ wild-eyed intensity as Graham is arresting indeed in this intimate space but it soon becomes wearing in its shoutiness. William Frazier’s Ray is subtler, more nuanced as a character but so little is given away, either by Toumey’s direction or Williams’ writing as to the depth of their relationship, its homoerotic or even sadomasochistic charge unexplored, that its hard to really engage.