The old Actors Centre has a revamped bar and the Tristan Bates Theatre has been given a facelift to become the Seven Dials Playhouse.
In Andrew Keates’s production of Steve, by Mark Gerrard and receiving its European premiere, there is a stage revolve, video screens and projections of both translated words and texts/sexts. This set by Lee Newby amplifies the space of this intimate venue.
Steven (a demonstrative David Ames) is celebrating his 47th birthday at the Manhattan branch of Joe Allen’s, where posters from little-remembered shows line the walls.
His boyfriend of 16 years, Stephen (Joe Aaron Reid), and their friends Carrie (Jenna Russell), Brian (fun-loving Giles Cooper) and Matt (reflective Michael Walters) are there around a table which moves to allow us to observe matters from every angle. Big spenders in the audience can get a seat on one of the dinner tables where they become both observer and observed.
Waiter, dancer, and constant pop-up presence Esteban (Nico Conde) even mans the pre-show working bar, while pianist and MD Ben Papworth tinkles the ivories with clever underscoring and Sondheim classics at scene changes.
Carrie (a lovely, poignant performance from Russell) is dying, and estranged from the girlfriend we never see. Stephen, we hear, has been unfaithful in a sense, sexting with Brian. Steven, in a fit of fiery pique, resolves to have his own mid-life adventure with the Argentine waiter.
There are other Steves, too, to thicken the plot. Steven and Stephen have a young son, Stevie. Brian and Matt have a hunky young trainer Steve who moves into their house as they explore polygamy.
The locations are well-defined with digital photos and videos – a busy street outside a coffee shop, a sleepy cat on the home windowsill, health posters in a hospital canteen, hints of a tropical wood on Fire Island.
With a script with sizzles with bitchy pop culture and musical theatre references, moments of regret and reveries, and earthy overtures; Steve addresses gay relationships in middle-age while the world turns around them. A young friend is referenced who has been outlived by the group. Jealousies, crushes, and candour spills out.
It’s flashy, frank and fabulous. At moments the characters may teeter into the stereotype, but that’s pared back to see the hilarious yet touching reality of long-term gay couples finding their feet whether as parents or hedonists, or simply ‘Ricky and Lucy’.
You can see Steve at the Seven Dials Playhouse until 19 March, with a relaxed performance on 22 February and a captioned one on 1 March. Book your tickets here.
Image credit: The Other Richard