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Some lessons for Mr Elliott about the second half

Review by Paul Nelson

WITH his new play, Mr Elliott, Jonathan Hall has abandoned the romantic notions he propounded with The Coffee Lovers' Guide to America, and has decided to give it to us on the chin.

Once again there is a couple, one gay, one unsure. The interesting part of this affair is that one is a schoolteacher, and the other a pupil of some 10 years ago.

The two meet at night in a well known gay cruising spot and from this develops an extension of anonymous, outdoor, night time sex until the younger, Ash, a Pakistani, recognises the older, Mr Elliott, as his erstwhile teacher and goes for it.

One could be really flippant here and rename the play Hello, Mr Chips! but the play raises many serious aspects, which unfortunately, time prevents the author from expounding either fully or satisfactorily.

What occurs, and I must confess this is a very brief synopsis on my part, is that after the initial encounter the two come face to face in a 'normal' setting.

Eventually Ash confesses his burgeoning love and thereby puts the married Elliott on the spot.

It becomes an intolerable situation for Elliott, but after the boy declares his love, he has to face the fact of his own sexuality and his closeted gay activities.

Matters come to a head when Ash, in an outburst, points out to Elliott that it is somehow acceptable to him that they meet for a sordid sexual encounter of lust, but that deeper love, trust and caring for each other Elliott finds disgusting.

Elliott, troubled by this, confesses to his wife that he has, at best, only bisexual tendencies. In an all too brief and hurriedly written scene, she is at first horrified and then almost immediately comes to the realisation that whatever, they still love each other.

Here the play goes rather breathlessly off the rails, because in the next scene Ash decides he is to leave the district, Bradford, and live a full gay life in the 'gay village' area of Manchester.

The play also touches on racial problems and puts forward the black, Pakistani and white arguments rather baldly, in what seems to be an unnecessarily slapdash fashion.

Steve, a black social worker, has outraged Mr Elliott by staging an out and out protest play in the school, which has been badly received.

Elliott accuses him of stirring up racial tension.

Steve also is gay, an irrelevance to the plot, and there is a further red herring in the knowledge of group sex between him, his lover and Ash.

The stereotype racial views of local, simple folk are presented by Bev, the school cleaner, who, although she finds immigrants a cause for endless complaint, uncharacteristically accepts Elliott's confession of his sexual orientation when he reveals he and Jacky have divorced.

The last I found a hard pill to swallow though the actress plays the scene superbly, but harder is the unexplained revelation that Ash has returned to Bradford, been seen with a black eye and is to marry.

This leaves one flabbergasted. Is it an arranged marriage, or a desperate (and unlikely) attempt at trying to go straight?

Has his eye been blacked by a zealous faithful member of the family or has he been mugged in the gay environs of Manchester?

On this questioning note, the play stumbles to a close. One can only presume the author meant the events to reveal that the double standard for the closet gay is essentially an ongoing thing, Ash's family after all did not know about their errant kin.

Good and moving as the first act is, the mood is unfortunately dissipated by these second act flaws.

The performances, particularly from Gary Cady (Elliott), Elyes Gabel (Ash) and Su Elliott (Bev) complement the play, but it is sad that the efforts of the cast can do little to hide the hurried papering over of the cracks that finally emerge to sink the whole.

Mr Elliott by Jonathan Hall. Directed by Nigel Townsend, Design Ben Dickens, Lighting Lucy Sutcliffe, Sound Sarah Weltman, Press and Marketing Guy Chapman Associates. WITH: Gary Cady (Mr Elliott), Elyes Gabel (Ash), Marcus Rogers (Steve), Su Elliott (Bev), Amanda Orton (Jacky). Presented by The Chelsea Theatre, at The Chelsea Theatre, World's End Place, King's Road, London SW10. Tickets 0870 990 8454.

Photo shows Elyes Gabel

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