4 November 2016

The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures at Hampstead Theatre

Hampstead Theatre is one of the many that I am on the mailing list for and it is only because it is a little harder to get to for me than many other theatres that I do not go there more often. The lure this time, somewhat simplistically, was the title, the play really was "The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures" though the theatre also used the abbreviation "iHo" and prompted the hashtag #iho.

Another lure was that Tamsin Greig was in it. I've been watching her on TV since Black Books, and still do in Episodes, and listening to her on the radio as Debbie Aldridge in the Archers for many years. I had also seen her on the stage once before, also at Hampstead.

iHo was a long play, basically three acts of an hour each separated by two intervals, and that meant an early, 7pm start. And that left little time to get there or to eat beforehand. I got round the first by leaving the office at 5pm, and believe me that is early, and around the second by having a sandwich at the theatre before the show. They used to have a restaurant there but that had been closed down and there was just the cafe that was long on drinks but short on food.

On of the reasons that I like Hampstead Theatre is that all the seats are good and so having to be somewhere near the back did not worry me at all. I ended up in L17 for £35.

The story revolved around Gus Marcantonio, a retired former trade union organiser, who lived in a New York brownstone (that he owned) with his sister and his daughter's ex-husband. He had three siblings all of whom were visiting him; his daughter and two sons were there because Gus had tried to kill himself and they were concerned that he might do so again.

You might need to take notes now. Gus's sister had been both a nun and a terrorist with Golden Path. His daughter was now married to another woman who was expecting a bay. One son was also gay and also married but he also spent a lot of time, and money, with a gay prostitute. The other son, something of the odd-one-out, was a builder and also married. That's ten main characters, no wonder it took three hours to tell this chapter of their story.

With five of the nine main characters openly gay that's the "homosexual" part of the title explained. The "capitalism and socialism" came from Gus' union background which is family had been immersed in, the "scriptures" from Gus' sister's time as a nun and the "intelligent" from the education and careers of most of the siblings and their partners.

That is a heady mix of characters and themes made for an intense and engaging play. There was so much going on that at times there were several conversations going on at once, much like a Mozart opera. Those conversations went all over the place as several big themes were kept in play, like the infidelities and not forgetting the attempted suicide.

It struck me that this was very much in the vein of an Arthur Miller play, I had seen All My Sons the previous day, with a patriarchal figure and a family troubled both by his legacy and by their own problems. I was very pleased that Michael Frayn agreed with me on that when I spoke to him briefly in the second interval
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iHo did so many things well. The stories and the characters that were at the heart of them were believable and gripping. Many big themes were touched, including a very factual look at suicide, there was a lot of human frailty and passion, and some lovely lighter moments too especially from the seen-it-all ex nun and terrorist played brilliantly by the scene stealing Sara Kestelman. I also liked the ending a lot and preferred it to Miller's because of its lack of certainty and use of a minor character to deliver the final line, a question.

The main thing that iHo did well was the acting. On the theatre's website three actors were called out, including Greig and Kestelman, and while they were undoubtably excellent they were but three among nine and all ten had plenty of time in the spotlight and all ten shone when they had to. The eleventh only had a cameo role and that was excellent too as she described how to commit suicide in a wonderful deadpan and practicable way.

iHo was magnificent and I loved every one of the 180 minutes of it.

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