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Harvey Fierstein’s ‘Torch Song’ at the Turbine Theatre, London review: ‘Powerful and poignant’

Matthew Needham shines in a thrilling revival of a queer classic.

By Will Stroude

Words: Simon Button

As unlucky-in-love drag queen Arnold Beckoff in this thrilling revival of Harvey Fierstein’s queer classic, Matthew Needham is a startling contrast to Fierstein himself.

The writer and actor – who played his own fabulous creation in the original Torch Song Trilogy when it played Off-Broadway in the late ’70s and also in the early-’80s Broadway production and 1988 film adaptation –  was just as caustic in his delivery of the script’s many zingers, but he was cuddly where Needham is rake-thin and his Arnold was more of a hopeful than hopeless romantic.

The casting is clever because within seconds you forget about Harvey, with his gravelly voice, and warm to Matthew, who nails the New York accent and makes the character very much his own. Falling for the wrong men and warring with a mother who can’t get her head around his sexuality, he’s by turns bitchy, witty, wounded and a warrior.

One of those seemingly wrong men who might actually be mister right comes in the shape of Ed (an impressively buff and adorably naive Dino Fetscher), a bisexual Beckoff meets in a bar and ends up falling for despite his better instincts.

Then there’s Alan (Rish Shah, very appealing), an actor and model who is Mr Right until… well, that’s the twist in the tale of what started out as three one-act plays and has since been distilled down to a two-acter, albeit in three very distinct parts.

Completing the cast are Jay Lycurgo, who is winningly cheeky as Arnold’s adopted gay son David, and Bernice Stegers as the formidable Mrs Beckoff in a performance that nails the zingers but tends to rush through some of the more confrontational moments.

Staged in the intimate new Turbine Theatre at London’s Battersea Power Station development, director Drew McOnie’s production is wonderfully up close and personal. Some of the plotting could be a bit clearer, but it hits every emotional beat in a work that is hilarious, heartbreaking, powerful and poignant.

And although the trains rocking the building are above it, with a bit of imagination they could just as easily be the NYC subway rumbling below.

Rating: 4.5/5 

Torch Song is at the Turbine Theatre, London, until 13 October. For great deals on tickets and shows click here.