There’s something profoundly moving about watching playwright Kevin Elyot’s last play, Twilight Song, completed just before he died in 2014, knowing that its author never got to see it staged.
It premiered last night at London’s Park Theatre to a fairly star-studded audience many of who, like Lindsay Duncan, had appeared in his work or, at the very least, admired his achievements.
The post show party ended up a celebratory memorial to the writer and a toast to another play well written.
Deeply evocative and poignant, it’s difficult to ignore the fact that this tragicomedy came from a man who was dying.
Whether he knew at the time that this would be his last work is unclear but his well trod themes of a longing for love and remembrance of loves lost are felt even more strongly here.
It is also impossible to forget that this is the 50th anniversary year of the decriminalisation of male homosexuality in Britain.
Before 1967 men tried to hide their sexuality behind a veil of secrecy and lies, often marrying and having families in an attempt to hide their sexual orientation from the public.
In Twilight Song we meet mummy’s boy Barry, a pharmacist forced into early retirement and living out his uneventful life with his bitter mother who, we hear, spends every Thursday in sedate Dunstable trying to contact the dead.
While she’s out on one of her trips to the spiritualist he invites around an estate agent to give him a valuation – and, as it turns out – something of a bonus on the side.
Elyot plays around with time, taking the action from the present day back to the early and middle 1960s where we meet Barry’s parents, drippy anaesthetist Basil and his frustrated wife Isabella, who has been forced to give up any hope of a career after marrying and getting pregnant.
We meet Uncle Charles, an affected one-time am-dram actor and now a distinguished doctor, and his close friend Harry, a solicitor.
They are both frightfully traditional, public school types. Harry is married and has a small boy but, it turns out, the two elderly men have a side to their relationship that they have to keep secret.
There are lots of awkward pauses, stilted conversations and clumsy fumblings in a moment of misjudged passion when the two men are left alone. Charles is desperate to see Harry but the latter is trying hard to play the respectable family man.
Meanwhile Basil and Isabella’s relationship isn’t perfect mainly due to her resentment at playing housewife. Still there is always the gardener to lend a hand.
The regrets come thick and fast from everyone. Their lives have been unfulfilled and tinged with unhappiness. No-one escapes.
Paul Higgins is wonderfully pathetic as both Basil and adult son Barry. He is so overwhelmingly lethargic that you wonder how he found the energy to get up every morning.
As Basil he finds it impossible to show any sort of reaction or emotional response at learning of his wife’s infidelity.
And as Barry, he shuffles around the decaying house that he has lived in his whole life, without any clear purpose.
“I working in a pharmacy, the same one nearly all my life and all the time what I secretly wanted was to be a dancer,” he admits to the estate agent.
Even Adam Garcia’s sleezy agent is disappointed in his life. Aussie Skinner wants rid of his wife and mother-in-law and makes money on the side by selling sex.
Barry is brilliantly listless and deeply depressed, wearing a hangdog expression as blue as his cosy middle-aged pullover. Meanwhile Bryony Hannah, as wife Isabella, is seething with anger and frustration.
She later doubles, pretty unsuccessfully, as Mother. Director Anthony Banks hoped to get away with darkening the set to hide Hannah’s youth but it doesn’t work at all.
Hugh Ross, as Charles, and Philip Bretherton, playing Harry, grapple rather ineptly for a moment but both are entirely credible as men forced to live a lie and suffer the consequences.
Garcia, the big named draw in Twilight Song, book ends the play, appearing both as the oily estate agent and as the bit of rough offering his services to all and sundry.
Well acted, brilliantly plotted, with some fine dialogue and hilarious double entendres from Elyot, Twilight Song is a fitting memorial to a remarkable playwright, taken too soon.
Running at Park Theatre until August 12.
Profoundly moving and deeply evocative, Kevin Elyot pays a final visit to themes of love lost and life unlived in his last play, Twilight Song, premiering at Park Theatre three years after his death.