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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Le Grand Mort
Trafalgar Studio 2   Autumn 2017

Le Grand Mort is only 75 minutes long, but it's a long 75 minutes as Stephen Clark's play meanders its way to the valid but not especially difficult conclusion that people have different capacities for intimacy. 

Michael, played by comedian Julian Clary with an admirable tamping-down of his usual wildly camp manner, is most comfortable when there is a physical and emotional distance between himself and others, even if they're briefly sharing a bed, while Tim (James Nelson-Joyce, in a more aggressive mode) yearns to lose himself in a total emotional blending with another. 

An evening between the two is going to be awkward, even without both being fascinated by the sexual allure of death and both telling too-much-information tales about themselves. 

The play opens with Michael preparing dinner for the guest who picked him up earlier that day, creating a pasta sauce out of a range of fresh ingredients meticulously chopped and measured before our eyes, while ruminating in awkwardly rhymed couplets about the connection between sex and death. 

When Tim appears he is both overtly sexual and threatening, repeatedly striving to break down Michael's reserve. 

He tells an extended story about himself to explain his hunger for total intimacy, goading Michael into revelations about the past that shaped his repression. (Neither story is particularly believable, by the way, but they serve.) 

A knife appears and changes hands several times, as each seems to offer a sexually-charged death that the other might not resist. 

But despite the repeated promises of violence and the constantly shifting hints as to who is going to kill whom, Le Grand Mort is really all talk. I can't say it goes nowhere, but it doesn't go far or deep enough to justify all the build-up. 

Yes, one had an experience of fulfilling intimacy in the past and wants more, and the other had one of creepy weirdness and wants less. But all the talk of death and sex, and all the one-upsmanship over food and wine, and all the messing about with that knife prove to be not a whole lot more than red herrings and padding.

(When you forget everything else about this play, you'll remember that it repeatedly paused for digressions on the homoerotic imagery of the Crucifixion, the legendary death of Catherine The Great and rumours of Marilyn Monroe's body being defiled in the morgue.) 

As directed by Christopher Renshaw, James Nelson-Joyce generates a sense of feral energy and wiliness that is impressive if slightly irrelevant, while Julian Clary demonstrates that he can act almost-butch.

Like all that preparation for a meal they never get around to eating, Le Grand Mort seems a lot of work with too little result.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Le Grand Mort - Trafalgar Studios 2017  

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