Torch Song Review

The Turbine Theatre – until 13 October 2019

Reviewed by Claire Roderick


The Turbine Theatre opens with an assured revival of Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song. This is the revised 2017 version, packing the original trilogy of plays into just over 2 ½ hours.

Matthew Needham shines as Arnold Beckoff, a drag queen first seen preparing to perform as Virginia Ham. The play begins with International Stud, a series of monologues to the audience with little or no physical interaction between the cast, introducing Arnold in all his glorious bitchiness as he categorises and criticises men but still hopes to find a lasting love, and Ed (Dino Fetscher) a bisexual teacher who picks up Arnold. The men’s relationship is hampered by Ed’s secrecy, and Arnold eventually discovers that Ed is dating a woman. Fugue in a Nursery sees Ed married to Laurel (Daisy Boulton) and Arnold in a new relationship with younger man Alan (Rish Shah) as the two couples spend time together at Ed’s house. This is staged imaginatively and sparingly on a large bed, condensing a weekend into a series of short, snappy scenes. After the interval, Widows and Children First! has a more linear sitcom feel to it, with Arnold’s mother’s (Bernice Stegers) visit a source of stress for Arnold and amusement for Ed and teenager David (Jay Lycurgo).

Director Drew McOnie keeps things tight without losing the freewheeling fell of the first two plays, and James Whiteside’s efficient design means that scene changes don’t detract from the performance or slow down the plot. Needham is stunning as Arnold, rising to the challenge of Fierstein’s meaty role and nailing both the caustic wit and vulnerability. His monologues were the highlight of the show for me. Fetscher is impressive as Ed, making most of the audience want to slap him for being so selfish and indecisive. Jay Lycurgo’s performance as 15-year-old David is full of mischievous warmth, making his scenes where he proves himself the most mature person in the room more poignant. The darker moments are played beautifully, never overshadowing the life-affirming joy that leaps from the stage as Arnold and Ed both search for a family and acceptance.

An emotional and uplifting production that opens this new theatre in spectacular style.