The Twentieth Century Way is probably one of the most original plays I’ve seen in the West End for ages. It could be said to be a piece of metatheatre, with a dash of Rosencrantz and Guildernstern are Dead and a LGBTQ angle for good measure.
Written by Tom Jacobson and directed by Marylynne Anderson-Cooper, this funny two-man show intertwines the ‘art’ of acting with homoerotic history in Los Angeles in the early 20th century.
Playing a pair of actors in 1914 who are waiting to be seen at a ‘movie audition’, Brown (Fraser Wall) and Warren (James Sindall) pass the time away acting in improvised ‘hypothetical scenarios’. As the younger and not quite so ‘worldly’ of the two men, Brown is not immediately comfortable with these exercises. In addition, Warren’s candour knows no limits as his frank exchanges about the habits of ‘certain men’ show more than a rudimentary knowledge on the subject.
Of course both men are gay, but their own self-imposed ‘audition’ allows them to ‘test’ each other, to assess whether the other is the ‘real deal’. At a time when same sex activity could result in imprisonment, revealing one’s true nature could be dangerous. Of course maybe they really are there to train as “vice specialists” by the police department of Long Beach, California to entrap “social vagrants” …
As a chronicle of the clandestine gay community in the early 20th century, The Twentieth Century Way makes for interesting viewing. Of course there are plenty of laughs to be had too – whether it’s the joy of language, which oscillates between innuendo and ‘bold as brass’, to the rigours that all actors go through to ensure a truthful performance.
© Michael Davis 2017
The Twentieth Century Way runs at Jermyn Street Theatre until 28th January 2017.