BBC South Yorkshire's
can't escape the 1950s this summer - pointy flats in primary colours,
prom skirts and flower prints, halternecks and waspish waists.
past is our playground and fashion never tires of plundering it
for a spot of instant attitude.
needs a point of view when they can be Sandra Dee by day and fast
forward to Nico by nightfall?
forward Jeff Noon's four charming men of Soho in 1962. They're suited,
they're booted, they're self-made men, they're The Modernists.
followers of fashion would come later: these fine dandies are style
leaders, making up the rules as they go along, always ahead of the
game, which for them started sometime in the late 50s.
Popplewell as Leon
will they survive when fashion catches up with them? As the play
opens, it is already snapping at the heels of their handmade brogues.
Crucible, where this story of post-war manhood premieres as part
of the Sheffield First new writing season, has always been a flexible
and open space.
this production, designer Simon Higlett has excelled himself in
bringing the outside in and re-creating the back streets of Soho
with deceptively simple realism.
did feel huge - certainly big enough for a scooter to be ridden
on-stage without the least feeling of theatricality. Hell, I even
expected one of the characters to trip over an alley-cat on its
way back from dallying on a hot tin roof.
world inhabited by the play's four characters is, as Noon says "dark
and grim" - as the evening progresses it dawns on me that despite
the current vogue for the period, I know nothing about these young
Designer Simon Higlett excelled himself in recreating the back
streets of Soho with deceptively simple realism
Holly has had his short day in the sun, Elizabeth Taylor and Paul
Newman have brought Tennessee Williams' dysfunctional Southern family
to the silver screen a few years previously - but all that is American.
in Blighty the war is over but a whole generation of fatherless
men don't have a clue who they are and are in the process of inventing
themselves from scratch.
beauty of this play is that everything rests on what band members
Vincent, Clifford, Terrance and Leon say about themselves. Their
elaborate parlance is all - and it's not just idiosyncratic, it
is poetic, even biblical at times - as one character even admits.
women complain that men just dont talk - well these men don't
talk either. They declaim, they embroider. In two minutes I caught
a 'cocky little slant', a 'besmirch', a 'yea' and a 'yonder'.
the suits, ah the suits. Vincent and Clifford, the alpha males of
the group are very concerned with what 'befits' them.
lapels -precisely 2 1/2 inches this week - the matching kerchief,
the exquisite cut of their gib
. All of these have nothing
to do with fashion and everything to do with status, precision,
belonging, being someone.
Terrance, a lead singer with a stutter, is prettier than Gareth
can be reduced to a gibbering, humiliated wreck by a crumpled tie,
admittedly with the helping hand of booze, pills and the giddy atmosphere
of Mistress Soho.
(Tom Hardy) and Clifford (Orlando Wells) put in superbly subtle
performances. The play is so dense and wordy it could become static,
but the actors pull off that trick of drawing your eye even when
they're not speaking, being suitably mannered but not showy.
peacock characters like these, the cast do well to steer clear of
Popplewell's rough diamond Leon is probably the easiest character
to latch onto at the outset - he is cockney macho after a fashion
that has become quite familiar of late.
Spencer and Orlando Wells in The Modernists
(Jesse Spencer) might well become popular eye-candy for the theatre-going
ladies - and gents - of Sheffield.
a lead singer with a stutter, he's prettier than Gareth Gates -
a fact that hasn't escaped the notice of Vince and Clifford.
Robert Delamere has them dancing around one another like the game-playing
courtesans from Dangerous Liaisons.
charged relationship has hints of the homoerotic - which turn out
to be homo-social, but then again
is fascinating to watch them vie for the attentions of a protégé
- after all, what is a self-made man without a follower?
watching for boys and girls, and food for thought for followers
of fashion. It has an engaging and hypnotic effect and so many layers,
that I for one might just go and watch it again.