The Local Stigmatic still resonates. Director Michael Toumey confronts us with Heathcote Williams’ aggressive, vitriolic and pulsating drama on its fiftieth anniversary. The hour-long drama is intensified by The Old Red Lion Theatre’s dark and compact surroundings.
Graham (Wilson James) and Ray (William Frazer) are two vicious sociopaths occupying a dingy flat in 1960s London. Clad in leather jackets, ray-ban sunglasses with slicked back hair, walls clad in Beatles’ posters, I initially feared the production would prove dated and static, even clichéd. Not the case.
Graham and Ray spend their time obsessing over the greyhound races, bickering, drinking and musing over the celebrity gossip pages. Fresh from losing money on a dog, Hermosa of Selsdon, Graham is in a particularly antagonized mood. The drama reaches its cruel climax when the pair encounter a famous actor in a West-End pub, its violent final moments leave you squirming but engrossed. Think Harold Pinter meets Patrick Hamilton, blended with Heathcote’s wonderful ear for dialogue.
Sometimes Toumey’s directing felt a little flat. Initially, the chemistry between Graham and Ray felt disconnected. However, this improved as the production progressed. Wilson James’ frenzied and wild-eyed portrayal of Graham works well on the surface, but we seldom see beyond his bravado to the sense of humanity beyond his sociopathy, which Heathcote Williams’ play does cater for. His rage is slightly monotone, too much shouting- this dilutes some of the drama’s intensity. Nevertheless, James’ portrayal is overall charming and seductive; we side with his character, in the way audiences do side with sociopaths.
The Local Stigmatic was adapted for the big screen in a 1990 production starring Al Pacino (worth watching if you are intrigued by the shaky concept of a Pacino-London accent). I’d recommend Toumey’s production- it is an uncomfortable, boisterous and in-your-face exploration of Williams’ play. An hour well-spent.