Review: Le Grand Mort

September 21, 2017
  • Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Trafalgar Studios

There are too few surprises and not enough laughs in this strangely clinical black comedy about sex and death.

Julian Clary is the engine-room of a two-man play, delivering as a physical actor, able to raise a laugh with an exaggerated gesture or pointed look, but lacking when it comes to the less familiar business of drama. It all feels a little rushed, having the air of a read-through where nobody is fully committed and nothing is really at stake.

His character, Michael, is an ageing gay man, and his areas of interest are death, history and penises. Among the historical penises he speaks about – at some, ahem, length, and often in verse – are those of Jesus, Rasputin and Tutankhamun.

These musings are interspersed with saucy asides along the lines of “he was cocksure and half arsed – what a combination”. These are often funny, delivered with Clary’s excellent comic timing, but it’s all a little obvious, exactly the play you’d imagine Clary being cast in (the part was written with him in mind, in fairness).

Michael grudgingly accepts the offer of a date with a persistent younger man, Tim, who he meets in a bar, and sets about revealing his insecurities as he prepares for their meeting. Tim is a hot bit of rough, a balling Scouse lad who’s implausibly well versed in the classics. Playwright Stephen Clark, who died last year, is clearly aiming for Oscar Wilde territory but misses by some margin, and an intense performance by James Nelson-Joyce can’t make the character any less two dimensional: he’s essentially a middle aged wank fantasy, existing only to work Clary into a repressed frenzy.

Things take a dark turn in the second half, but the tonal shift feels forced and the leap from realism to something more fantastical doesn’t quite work.

Clary fans will enjoy seeing him up close in the intimate setting of Trafalgar Studios’ tiny downstairs theatre, but more agnostic theatre-goers will find a production that drags despite its welcome brevity.

First published in City A.M.