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A CurtainUp London London Review
His Greatness

Madness isn’t in the brain, it’s in the blood — the Playwright
His Greatness
and Toby Wharton as the Young Man and Matthew March as the Playwright and with Russell Bentley in the background as the Assistant (Photo: Craig Sugden)
At London’s exciting Finborough Theatre comes the European premiere of Daniel MacIvor’s play about an ageing writer from the Southern states of America on tour in Canada with his latest play. His Greatness is inspired by the life of Tennessee Williams and is set in 1980 when the great playwright was experiencing some critical damning of his later plays.

This is a very accurately written piece with the Playwright using that beautifully expressive and lyrical language that we associate with Tennessee Williams’ tight family dramas. This use means we can identify with a man who has produced plays that touch your very soul and how frustrating it is for him not to be able to entrance the audience with his new work. There is that triumph of hope over experience as each new opening brings with it encouragement and expectation, only for these emotions to be damned when the morning papers are read. It is a lesson for critics to watch and take on board the destructive power they command.

In this three hander set in a Vancouver hotel (somewhere north of Seattle) there is the magnificent Playwright, played by the sonorous Matthew Marsh in the heavy black rimmed spectacles associated with Williams and his loyal manservant and companion and erstwhile lover called The Assistant (Russell Bentley). As the Young Man, the chancer from the streets, the sexual plaything brought back by the Assistant to entertain the Playwright (and maybe also himself) is Toby Wharton. He's handsome, impressed by the fame and thrilled by his first experience of live theatre when he goes to the premiere of the latest play.

The performances are assured and realistic . Matthew Marsh is resplendent with his literary command and Toby Wharton again shows what a quietly expressive actor he is. Russell Bentley has the least satisfying role as unappreciated and resentful, he can longer excite the great man but his gestures are superbly nuanced and full of meaning.

All action takes place in the dusty pink coloured anodyne hotel room. Ché Walker’s production uses dramatic thriller film type music to create suspense. There is an aborted radio interview with the Playwright over the telephone when the Playwright is deeply offended at being called “not modern” but he makes us laugh when he criticises rival Arthur Miller’s play “about the witches – that is too easy,” he says.

It is not a play with rich, biographical detail about Tennessee Williams but about the situation with hindsight, that the three men find themselves in. They are three gay men and the world is about to change for gay men with the advent of HIV. Just as gay men have won the right to be themselves in public, the virus creates a climate of fear and death. His Greatness has many moments of good humour but also deep hurt. There is the rejection of the Assistant after years of devotion, the dashed hope of the Young Man to have found a passport out of poverty in the city and the dream of the playwright of being acknowledged once more for his talent. This is an affecting play.

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His Greatness
Written by Daniel MacIvor
Directed by Ché Walker

Starring: Matthew Marsh, Russell Bentley, Toby Wharton
Set by Jean-Marc Puissant
Lighting: Arnim Friess
Sound: Edward Lewis and Jude Malcolmson
Running time: One hour 20 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 0844 847 1652 or
Booking to 19th May 2012
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 27th April 2012 performance at the Finborough Theatre, 118 Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED (Tube: Earls Court/West Brompton)

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