Sandy Pritchard-Gordon

Sandy Pritchard-Gordon
Theatre Blog

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Absolute Hell at The Lyttleton

Whilst this play, Absolute Hell, currently playing at The Lyttleton can’t in any way be described as such, it isn’t exactly an absolute joy either.  A strangely constructed drama by Rodney Ackland and originally entitled The Pink Room, Absolute Hell is set in a Soho Club during the final days of World War Two.  With a cast of nearly forty, it has no real plot.  Instead the twenty main characters drink, flirt, scheme and debate everything from national politics to religion and most subjects in-between. 

For the most part their outlook is bleak, none more so than the chatelaine of the club, Christine Foskett (Kate Fleetwood). She tries subduing her disillusionment with life by imbibing large amounts of alcohol and flirting outrageously with the customers, especially the American Serviceman, Butch (Aaron Heffernan). The other central character is Hugh Marriner (the always superb Charles Edwards).  He plays a struggling gay writer and elements of his life reflect the playwright’s personal experience.

One can see why the original version of the play was damned, inhabited as it is by homosexuals, bisexuals and promiscuity.  Not the done thing in 1950’s Britain. All these topics are de rigeur in 2018 of course, but the play is still a difficult one to digest.
Absolute Hell does have its moments, especially when the humour shines through but designer Lizzie Clachan’s set and Jon Clark’s clever lighting take most of the honours. Her stage design brilliantly conjures up a dingy and rather seedy 1940’s drinking club and it’s a great pity that the play doesn’t sustain the initial excitement on first viewing the life about to enfold on stage.

Unfortunately, despite her efforts, Director Joe Hill-Gibbon’s clever inclusion of having the cast periodically sing in unison and excellent performances from the main characters, Absolute Hell doesn’t really work for me. A rolling series of disjointed sketches by assorted characters isn’t a great outline for a great play.

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