City Of Champions has just completed a run at London Theatre Workshop, we will keep you informed of any future runs.
Star rating: *****
New writing can be hit and miss, however this gruelling sensation of a piece has emerged from the Theatre Lab into a production after just shy of 6 years in the making. Written and directed by Steve Brown, it has a solid beating heart at the hub, with branches feeding in which offer the audience glimpses of strong friendships, broken relationships, chequered pasts and shocking, gritty reality.
The story centres around Laurie Munro (Joel Arnold), he was a Hollywood teen sensation in the his day but now we find him residing in a ‘shed’ at his co-star and best friend’s house in California. Eighteen stays in rehab and a heart condition, exacerbated by Viagra are the sum total of the remains of a so-called glitzy lifestyle which hides a harsh and sordid truth. His friendship with Lonnie (Joe Southall) is the only stability he has, they have a bromance of sorts and each has the other’s name tattooed on their bum cheeks! Although Lonnie is unaware to begin with that Laurie actually has gone ahead with his side of the tattoo bargain. Lonnie’s wife, Amy (Ellie Ward) is both supportive and desperate for a baby, therefore seeing the back of the ex toast of Hollywood would suit her. It’s evident that she is Lonnie’s rock, but his loyalties are often divided. Then there’s Barbara Munro (Maggie Robson), Laurie’s mother whom he rarely addresses as ‘mom’ or ‘mother’, preferring to call her Barbara. Akin to a small child who has found out their parents’ first names and thinks it’s clever not to call them mom or dad. Laurie and Barbara’s relationship is damaged, almost beyond repair, however, ever the manager (which seems to have taken priority over her being a mother) Barbara is chomping at the bit to have her son out there and working again. One of the jobs on offer involves Laurie seeing and working with the director of one of the films for which he and Lonnie were (and to some extent still are) household names. James Hudson Philips (Ian McCurrach) holds much responsibility for the state of Laurie, today – his intentions towards young ‘beautiful’ people were not merely work driven. A saving grace in the form of Laurie’s old flame, Mary-Celeste (Amy Burke) arrives on the scene seemingly just in time.
The fact that the horrors described as the story unfolds have so much truth in them was a squirm-inducing factor for me, the realisation that a wardrobe test was not just a wardrobe test and that this became the norm will haunt me for a long time to come. The story is heart-breakingly current with Operation Yewtree still prominent let alone Corey Feldman’s interview which Steve Brown cites as one of his initial ‘inspirations’ for this piece. Joel Arnold’s performance as Laurie is remarkable, he struts around with the swagger of a star, makes light of situations and takes every opportunity to take the Mickey. Yet when the occasion calls for it he steadily and stealthily reveals each of the broken man’s vulnerabilities. The chemistry with Joe Southall as Lonnie is incredible, such a believable relationship and it’s quite something to watch him unravel from the apparently glued individual that he has re-built himself as. Ellie Ward is a joy to watch as Lonnie’s easily put out wife, Amy – she’s filling the voids in his life but unaware of why the voids are there. Amy Burke is stunning as ex child star Mary-Celeste, her two-hander scene with Arnold was one of the many standout moments in the piece and the emotion that she injected into her performance gave a myriad of edges to her character. Ian McCurrach as James Hudson Phillips was skin crawlingly creepy, I cringed because his performance was so on point that it was easy to forget that he was playing a part! I’m shuddering to think of it now, and that’s exactly how I should be feeling. Maggie Robson’s performance as the mother from hell, Barabra, was so watchable that my one complaint with this otherwise (in my humble opinion) flawless script was that I would have liked to have seen more of her. Testament to the way in which Robson portrayed her I’m sure. Simultaneously cold with a hint of care which was far too little too late, it was easy to see how the relationship with her son had become irreparable. There was a fire in Robson’s eyes when she addressed Laurie and considered the future, with the events of act two bringing about changes in the character which were subtle and poignant. To the point in fact, where I felt some unexpected sympathy, a performance de force from one of my favourite actors.
I hope that there will be a chance for a wider audience to see this important and eye opening play, I’m so glad that it’s been take out of the Lab!