Freddie, Ted, and the Death of Joe Orton, London Theatre Workshop

Freddie and Ted are a couple in 1960’s Brighton. At the start of their relationship, homosexuality is illegal so the two pretend that young musician Ted is older Freddie’s lodger. As time passes, equality is recognised and Ted grows up. The progressive young man is idealistic and forward-thinking, whilst his partner is stuck in the past. As tension builds between them, rifts form that might be too deep to be repaired.

Don Cotter’s meandering script wants to be a kitchen sink drama in the comfortable domesticity of Ted and Freddie’s home. Their initial bickering is that of a fairly normal couple, but it takes until the end of Act II to realise something more sinister is going on. The second half carries some of that momentum through to an unexpected ending, but for much of the play, the stakes are too low for the length that it is.

Robert Styles is a meticulous, precise Freddie who flaunts his Cambridge education and cultured lifestyle with relish. The more down-to-earth, open Ted is played by Eoin McAndrew, a far more likeable character with a heartwarming devotion to his partner. The two have a sparky, changeable chemistry that quick changes from nasty coldness to genuine affection.

They are complimented by more stereotypical characters, which unfortunate  what with the detail that Styles and McAndrew bring to their roles. Dilys (Helen Sheals) is a dear older friend, but the period signposts of racist language that periodically pop up are an unnecessary strike against her warmth. Perry Meadowcroft is bad boy Glenn. With a sexuality up for debate, he is the more interesting subplot that arises but isn’t developed properly.

There are some lovely set-piece scenes in this new play, but its plodding dramaturgy takes too long to develop, and the climactic ending is rushed. With some smoothing and cutting, there’s promise in this snapshot of gay domesticity at a pivotal moment in this country’s history.

Freddie, Ted, and the Death of Joe Orton runs through 16 December.

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