Kevin Elyot’s final play is receiving its premiere in Park Theatre a few years after the writer’s death. It is set in London, in a Victorian villa, it takes place over three summers – 1961, 1967 and the present – and is centred on Isabella and her son Barry. They have been living together for the past 50 years, but their relationship is fraught with bitterness and resentment. He is gay, a retired pharmacist and despite his understated wit, the words that spring to mind are bland, compromised and down-trodden; a man sleepwalking through life. Isabella’s querulous, heavy drinking and bitter existence started forming in the 60s, when she made the sensible choice to marry the stalwart Basil and get trapped in a passionless marriage and family life, which she betrays soon after. Barry’s fling with the estate agent, and the secret relationship between Uncle Charles and Harry in the 60s, work as peripheral sub-plots that trace the standing of gay relationships the last 50 years.
Twilight Song will not reach the prominence of Elyot’s hit My night with Reg. It is short and the characters are underdeveloped, but probably because it is his last work it is charged with introspection and emanates a bittersweet urgency for life. The characters are constantly evaluating their life and are struggling with the what-ifs and the unrealised potential. Like much of Elyot’s work, it hops around in time and explores the dirty secrets and disappointments festering under the well-manicured, middle-class façade.
The first scene is a highly enjoyable with the insinuations and the double entendre. Throughout the play the cultural references are smartly placed and the pun-derived humour is elegant. Equally elegant are the past scenes involving the gay uncles. On the other hand the scene of Isabella’s seduction by the young gardener is clunky and it is too hasty to ring true.
Despite these shortcomings it is a well-produced and directed play with good acting. It will keep you engaged for 75 minutes. Its redeeming feature is it does not pretend that sexual liberation in general, and more specifically the advancement of gay rights, is the cure to our overwrought existence.