DIAMOND: Brighton Dome Studio: Theatre review

Besi Besemar June 5, 2013


DIAMOND is a story about what is possible if you believe in yourself, but more importantly like yourself.

It is a love story about a relationship between two outrageous homosexuals in the 30s and 40s when it was still illegal to be gay. The main characters are Lil who yearns for a traditional monogamous relationship and her partner Maisie who plays the field while believing that Lil will always be content so long as he returns home to her after his dallying. For years he gets away with it but finally Lil decides enough is enough and kicks him out.

Harry Young becomes Diamond Lil on his last day at school in 1924. He decides he is going to live his life honestly and comes to school after lunch dressed in high heels, make up and a frock, much to the shock of his school teacher, a closet queen.

An East End legend is born and the musical follows her life over the next 20 years as Lil holds HER community together through the war years and beyond.

Lil becomes the matriarch of HER own East End Community. Much of the narrative is centred in and around the Royal Oak Pub on the Caledonian Road where HER “community’ lives and plays. Lil becomes the unifying rock, dependable, brave and honest, giving advice and guidance to everyone around her. They all love and trust her. Bella the pub landlady and her barman son George; Lena a young prostitute who looks up to Lil as her mother, Lil’s brother and small time spiv Bill; fabulous Gladys the community gossip and the homophobic christian American GI, Arnie who quickly comes to learn that to win the heart of Lena he has to accept Lil for who she is.

Although basically a love story DIAMOND is much, much more. It is a fable about the importance of being who you are, standing up for who you are and demanding that people accept you for who you are. It is about the importance of community and the importance of being a good person within that community.

Dave Lynn is commanding in the central role of Lil. In fact that does not do his performance justice, he is quite magnificent in the role, breathing life into Lil,  a character that many 40 year old plus gay people will identify with but one that a younger age group might struggle to recognise and embrace.

Lil is indeed a Diamond, the type of person I want to be when I finally grow up. Confident, assured and a reservoir of humanity that Dave teases out through his performance which, while being subtle is very reassuring and has a wonderful feel good edge to it.  He reminded me of all those fabulous Queens I knew in Liverpool when I was growing up. I felt safe in his hands and was moved to tears by his final scene after the murder of his partner Maisie. This was not a drag queen playing a drag queen role, rather an accomplished performance by an actor who understood exactly the significance of the role of the matriarch in the community, any community no matter whether straight or gay. Dave endears Lil to the audience which makes the story telling much easier and believable. He was spot on with his character and his vocals were sympathetic to the musical score which was at times musically very demanding.

Stephen Richards plays Diamond Lil’s brother Bill, a flawed petty villain who thinks everyone and everything has a price. Stephen plays the tough guy very well but manages to leave us thinking that Bill could have a good side, somewhere buried deep inside. His stylist excelled and Stephen looked and smelt the part of an East London spiv.

Richard Pocock could steal the show if he wanted, but importantly does not. He has the ability, but more importantly has the discipline and understands that the central role of Diamond Lil is essential to the unfolding drama. Richard is lovely playing Maisie. If only all queens were this transparent! He loves cock and refuses to accept the guilt that goes with being exposed and caught out time and time again. His gin and tonic voice and elegant mannerisms create a character in reality we all already know, sort of like but are so pleased we are not like. He loves Lil for all the right reasons, his only problem is that his brain is in his trousers. His performance captures that moment when people who are led by their groins are helpless in stopping the inevitable happening. His delivery was inspiring to this weary homosexual as was his fine singing voice.

Corinna Gray plays Lena, a prostitute who becomes pregnant and goes to live with her GI lover in American after the end of the war. She does not fit in to his life in America, returns to England a broken women without her child and seeks out the only person who will not judge her, Lil. Corinna’s performance is pitched just right exposing the vulnerable side of Lena’s personality with the bare faced cheek needed to survive as a prostitute. Her vocal part is challenging but she delivers it with ease throughout.

Allan Jay plays Lena’s American GI, Arnie who is handsome, a great mover and has a fine singing voice. His American accent is convincing as is his clean cut ‘American boy next door look’. He performed his big number “That’s what the USA is all about” with conviction and was the reality check in the script and casting that confronts the issue of a “cock in a frock” head on.

Georgina Budd is a revelation playing Gladys. She bring to the surface those wonderful qualities that gossips have in abundance creating a warm and voluptuously sexy edge to her performance. She revealed bits of every gossip I know in different parts of her characterisation.

Mark Enticknap gives a solid performance playing good old dependable George. It is very difficult in a piece full of such colourful characters for an actor to even get a lookin but Mark gives a performance that is easy to warm to and he does not go unnoticed.

Holli Hoffman plays Bella the landlady of the Royal Oak Pub. She has seen it all and is one of Lil’s staunchest allies. She brings a tough exterior to the role but every now and then exposes some softer sides to her personality. She is the sort of woman you want on your side, fighting your battles with you rather than fighting against you.

The production is cleverly staged on an open set with a large screen used to keep you up to date with the storyline and to show images of old East End scenes. The set throughout was lit beautifully creating a relaxed feeling in the theatre, something that is challenging when the actors are so close to the front row of the audience. You are so close to the action you almost feel you are in the pub with them.

The music score is complex, not your conventional chorus and verse approach. The composer Robert Orledge skillfully tells the story through verse and the ensemble piece ‘Some kind of paradise’ just before the end is pure genius. The tunes are there but as with Sondheim you have to concentrate and listen carefully to appreciate the lyrical qualities of the music.

The show is skillfully directed by Ed Burnside, choreographed by Damien Delaney, beautifully designed by Ryan Dawson Laight who captures the period perfectly and produced by Tim Anscombe and Stephen Holroyd.

Written by Linda Wilkinson, this type of theatre is a piece of ‘living history’ and needs cherishing. It is also a wonderful piece of musical theatre.

Make the effort, go see it and experience how it was then and how it could be in the future if we all hold onto the values that made Diamond Lil such a special person.

The show runs till Sunday with performances on:

Wednesday at 7.30pm
Thursday at 7.30pm
Friday at 5pm and 8.30pm
Saturday at 5pm and 8.30pm
Sunday at 3pm

Tickets are £17.50 conc £15


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