It takes a bold and fearless journalist to confront one of modern day’s vilest creatures and make him accountable, even if only post mortem, for his sins.
Sir Jimmy Savile won’t be remembered for the £40m he raised for charity, or the “fix-its” that made thousands of people’s dreams come true. His heinous crimes against children and adults have branded him a sex beast and possibly the worst human in living memory.
Jonathan Maitland’s controversial play, An Audience With Jimmy Savile, which has just opened at London’s Park Theatre, is rightly disturbing, shocking and sickening.
Alistair McGowan’s spot-on turn as the disgraced entertainer and showbiz personality makes your flesh creep but I would defend absolutely Maitland’s decision to write the drama and back to the hilt his reasons for doing so.
Is there a right time to tackle very public atrocities without offending or upsetting living relatives and friends?
Terrorist attacks like 9/11, suicide plane disasters, and the appalling Cumbrian killing spree by the deranged Derrick Bird just five years ago, immediately come to mind. When is it right to dramatise the revolting sex crimes of Savile, Rolf Harris or Gary Glitter without being accused of exploitation?
An Audience With Jimmy Savile will shake you to the core.
Impressionist McGowan, dressed in blond wig and shiny tracksuit (though nowhere near enough bling), and sporting the star’s trademark cigar, gives us all the catchphrases we remember from Top Of The Pops and Jim’ll Fix It, in that distinctive voice.
But he also delivers a chilling theatrical performance as a man who, if Maitland is to be believed, felt that his horrendous catalogue of rapes and sex attacks could be atoned by his charity work.
One minute Savile would be smarming up to royalty, governments, charities and institutions, and the next he’d be intimidating journalists, victims and police with veiled threats and the laws of libel. It was enough to silence the establishment for years.
Alistair McGowan is every inch the sleazy DJ who only ever worshipped one woman, his beloved mother, “The Duchess.” Every other female, no matter how young, sick, or disabled, was treated with contempt.
The play’s format is based on the celebrity “An Audience With..”shows that were, at one time, popular on ITV.
Graham Seed plays a fawning host Michael Sterling (a Michael Aspel-type) who introduces Savile with an obsequious eulogy that, with what we now know, leaves a sour taste in your mouth.
“This is the show that celebrates heroes and this man is a real hero for sure. A man who has given his life to help the sick, needy and vulnerable. He’s probably the most loved man in Britain and its greatest charity fundraiser.”
Dialogue for the 80-minute drama has been drawn from testimonies, police transcripts and public inquiries, as well as interviews given to Maitland by the people Savile abused.
Much of the story is seen through the eyes of Lucy, who is a composite of a number of Savile’s victims.
Lucy was just 12 and a hospital patient when Savile raped her. She reported the incident to staff, her parents, the police, but no-one ever believed her. This was a national treasure she was accusing, a celebrity beloved of presidents, princes and prime ministers.
Leah Whitaker’s visceral portrayal of Lucy is heart-breaking and astonishing. How is it possible no-one took her allegations seriously?
Robert Perkins plays a variety of characters, from Lucy’s uncomprehending father to Savile’s complicit chauffeur, Ray Teret (now serving 25 years for sex attacks against children) while minor female roles are taken by Charlotte Page.
Savile is the most harrowing and disturbing acting role McGowan is ever likely to undertake and I can quite believe he had to think long and hard before agreeing to do it.
I doubt whether he’ll be able to perform his impression of this modern day monster ever again once the production closes.
But this is a play of major importance and should be followed up with a televised production though I doubt whether the BBC would have the courage to screen it.
An Audience With Jimmy Savile runs until July 11.
An Audience With Jimmy Savile
Jonathan Maitland’s harrowing drama, An Audience With Jimmy Savile, at London’s Park Theatre, is disturbing, shocking, sickening and must be seen.