City of Champions – Review

Joel Arnold & Amy Burke in City of Champions. Images Rosalind White Photography.

We’ve all heard stories about the dark side of Hollywood that have been circulating ever since the industry was created.

The casting couch auditions for young starlets, the offers of fame in return for sex. Lives wrecked in the pursuit of stardom and success.

But the very worse abuses of power are still only hinted at for fear that recriminations will destroy careers.

Writer, producer and director Steve Brown has spent six years perfecting City of Champions, a new play which has just opened at the London Theatre Workshop and this urgent, impressive work, should be on everyone’s ‘to-see’ list.

It is superbly acted by a cast of six with compelling story-telling. This tragic tale of child abuse and the evil some men do in the name of love is deeply disturbing and, at times, harrowing to watch.

Brown wrote the play’s first draft in just eight days after discovering that two Hollywood child stars – ’80s favourites Corey Feldmen and his best friend, Corey Haim, had been the victims of abuse.

Feldman had declared in one interview that “paedophilia was Hollywood’s biggest problem”.

Since then, and it has only been a trickle despite the high profile court cases and Operation Yewtree, sports stars and other some high profile celebrities have admitted that their young lives had been blighted by abuse.

City of Champions is a moniker for Inglewood, a suburb of Los Angeles, which is home to several major sports teams. As such it is utterly meaningless to us Brits and gives no indication to London theatre-goers as to the subject matter of the play.

So it may come as a shock to discover that it isn’t about American football but about a pair of washed up former 1980s film actors whose formative teenage years had been wrecked their shocking treatment by studio bosses.

They may be based on Feldman and Haim but they also represent a far wider pool of victims.

Joel Arnold’s damaged, former teen idol, Laurie Munro, hasn’t worked in years other than the odd fan convention. In and out of rehab, he’s a penniless ex-addict, living hand to mouth with his teddy bear and a pile of junk, in his best friend, Lonnie’s, guest house.

Fellow teen actor, Lonnie Drake (Joe Southall,) grew up with Laurie and they began their careers together. It’s not easy listening.

But the fresh-faced, once vibrant Munro, always the bigger star, suffered worse while Drake buried his pain in booze.

Now their biggest screen success is being re-released on DVD and the studio want the men to record a commentary alongside the pervert responsible for the vile assaults on the teenagers.

Brown’s understanding of the subject matter and his confident direction creates an engrossing and pacy play that wouldn’t look out of place in a larger theatre or, indeed, on screen.

Arnold gives a powerful and gutsy, multi-layered performance that swings from pain and anguish to nonchalance and bravado, his glib patter and jokey attitude masking the insurmountable hurt and fear Munro feels inside.

Ian McCurrach’s flesh-creeping turn as depraved paedo producer James Hudson Phillips is deeply unsettling to watch but completely credible. It made me feel quite nauseous listening to his predatory patter.

His sudden re-appearance in Laurie’s life proves a catalyst that we know can only end in tragedy.

And Maggie Robson’s performance as Munro’s ambitious stage mother, Barbara, who ignored her son’s exploitation in order to further his career, is similarly unnerving.

Laurie’s rock proves to be a fellow child star who got out and into real estate before she became a victim. Now Amy Burke’s captivating Mary-Celeste offers glimmer of hope and happiness to the fallen star.

This isn’t an easy subject to tackle but it has been done with sensitivity, producing an absorbing drama that goes behind the glitz and glamour of Tinseltown to expose an evil, modern day Sodom and Gomorrah.

City of Champions runs at the London Theatre Workshop until August 5.

Review Rating
  • City of Champions
4

Summary

Compelling story-telling from writer & director Steve Brown and powerful performances from his cast of six, City of Champions is harrowing, deeply disturbing and unmissable.

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