Ian McKellen and Roger Allam are delightfully grumpy old men in senior queer romance Frank and Percy at The Other Palace
“I love champagne. Every time you sip it, it feels like you’re sipping from other celebrations”
Arriving at The Other Palace after a summer debut at Theatre Royal Windsor, Ben Weatherill’s Frank and Percy offers a glorious chance to see two of our finest actors in relative intimacy. Roger Allam and Ian McKellen star respectively as a pair of dog walkers strike up conversation one day, only to find their friendship turning into something romantic as their connection deepens.
Weatherill’s Jellyfish was one of my absolute favourite plays of 2018 and there’s much here that recalls its tenderness and truth. His writing is almost old-school here in the way it sacrifices drama for detail, his way with a witty quip and everyday references generates a huge amount of bonhomie and as acted by Allam and McKellen, means you’d happily sit and just watch them banter for hours.
Sean Mathias’ production is well aware of this, trusting in his actors and so his work feels efficently light touch, though Morgan Large’s set occasionally threatens to slow things down with its revolve. And I’m not sure that the deviation into the world of cancel culture for Percy really comes off as Weatherill doesn’t commit too strongly to it, which ultimately proves for the best.
For there’s something so soul-stirringly beautiful about the high points here. The real sense of hard-earned pride that accompanies Percy’s acceptance of a bi identity, a real engagement with how bereavement and loneliness hits so much harder for those who are older, and the power that comes from the slow-burn of a relationship that may possibly never be easy but also brings so much joy. Perfectly acted.