Review: Diary of a Somebody, Seven Dials Playhouse

Joe Orton’s diaries are brought powerfully to life in Diary of a Somebody at the Seven Dials Playhouse, even if they don’t always make the most satisfying play

“I popped into a pissoir on the Holloway Road”

In a West End full of officially authorised biopics sanitised of all the interesting stuff, it is bracingly refreshing to be slapped in the face with the warts and all nature of Diary of a Somebody. John Lahr’s play is based on verbatim passages from Joe Orton’s diaries focusing on the last few months of his life and boy, did that man have zero filter at all.

And in Nico Rao Pimparé’s production here, there’s a deep and dark dive into the mind of this iconic artist at a time of particular personal and professional tumult. Living with his deeply unhappy lover Kenneth Halliwell, navigating his near-addiction to cruising at a time when homosexuality had yet to be decriminialised and negotiating his ever-increasing fame as a writer in demand, this clearly was a crucial time for Orton.

Using his diaries as its source clearly has the benefit of this unfiltered look at a character, and George Kemp does a powerfully charismatic job at evoking the kind of ribald humour and cheeky rebelliousness that keeps you onside even when he’s fully being a spineless twat. The downside is that it limits the dramatic reach of the play somewhat and Lahr shows little interest in pulling back the lens of his writing from the intensely personal.

Which means that around Orton is a flurry of minor supporting characters, some of whom appear just fleetingly, and there’s an unevenness to how the company of four present this cast of thousands. Jemma Churchill near steals the night with some raucous humour (plus Mrs Edna Welthorpe is a work of comic genius) but others stumble just a little too much. Toby Osmond is often on hand to steady the ship though with his sensitive portrayal of Halliwell and his crippling inferiority complex.

Running time: 2 hours (with interval)
Photos: Brittain Photography
Diary of a Somebody is booking at Seven Dials Playhouse until 30th April

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