REVIEW: Undetectable, King’s Head Theatre London ✭✭✭✭

Julian Eaves reviews Tom Wright’s play Undetectable directed by Rikki Beadle-Blair now playing at the King’s Head Theatre London.

Undetectable play review
Lewis Brown and Freddie Hogan. Photo: Nick Rutter

King’s Head Theatre
18th February 2020
4 Stars

Returning to this theatre after its successful debut last year, young actor-turned-writer Tom Wright’s marvellous two-hander is a pleasure from start to finish that also achieves real magic.  In a brilliantly judged production by Rikki Beadle-Blair, this meeting of two young attractive and scantily – if at all – clothed men, seen in and around a double-bed, is a lively dialogue that promises much to come from an interesting new voice.

Of the two actors, Freddie Hogan gets the best of the deal with the part of Lex, the main initiator and instigator of just about all the action.  He seizes this challenge with gusto and produces a showcase of the simply dazzling variety of his dramatic skills: regardless of whether you find any personal affinity with the character, the sheer bliss of watching this expert performance is a delightful treat.  His face is hugely expressive and obedient to every turn of mood and tone in the gratefully written role.  Much, much harder is Lewis Brown’s journey with the deadening negativity of the neurotic Bradley, forever pouring cold water over Lex’s vivacity.  Quite what bonds these two together is a bit of a mystery: we are asked to believe they – that is to say, presumably Lex – has been courting for three long sexless months before getting to grips with the place where we now see them, a respectable bedroom.

King's Head Theatre
Freddie Hogan and Lewis Brown. Photo: Nick Rutter

Yes, there is something aching old-fashioned and even quaint about the approach to sex here.  It perhaps doesn’t ring particularly true, especially when we consider their previous histories (and I’m coming to that), but confronted with the bulldozing energy of the one and the stolid, maidenly refusals of the other, we don’t actually feel that matters much.  This is a play of ideas, where we are to listen to ‘what’ they are saying, rather than poking our noses into any gaping holes in the plot.

And, anyway, all that becomes fairly meaningless when confronted with the real high-point of the production, which is not to be found in a fleshy embrace.  No, indeed.  The fireworks here come in the perfect fusion between Beadle-Blair’s crafting of the action, combined with his svelte scenic design and his own beautifully composed soundscape of club-echt grooves and beats, and given sparklingly memorable life by Richard Lambert’s fastidiously inventive and perfectly judged lighting scheme: the clues for the essential part light plays in the transformation of this event are laid very early in our minds, but the results when they finally come are as astonishing as they are unexpected.  (And Brown must thank his stars for this moment because it is then that we get to see how much more he has to offer.)  In fact, the episode in which the boys get to step outside their current mis-en-scene is when the theatricality of the show, and their personae, really come into their own, and when we as an audience, at last, get to warm to them for what we can see them doing, liberated from the endless question-and-answer format of the script up to that point, reliving formative experiences on the gay scene, filled with all its hedonistic indulgences and frenetic insecurities.  Granted, this writing does somewhat recall the territory and manner of ‘Inheritance’, but in delicious miniature, and is not any the less lovely for that.

Tom Wright
Lewis Brown and Freddie Hogan. Photo: Nick Rutter

But, after 75 minutes, it’s all over, and you take away from the experience whatever you think there is to be taken.  Me, I was glad to discover that director and author – who began their fruitful relationship with ‘My Dad’s Gap Year’ at the Park Theatre – are already at work on another play.  There is the feel of an ongoing discussion here, one that could go in almost any direction.  ‘Gay Year’ I missed, but it is in print and I will be reading it.  Meanwhile, don’t wait around for the future to arrive: go and see this present offering now.  It’s quite something.

Until 7 March at Kings Head Theatre.

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