The newly opened Seven Dials Playhouse has already played host to one fantastic production this year in the form of Steve. To follow that up, they are bringing a play back to the West End for the first time in 35 years as Diary of a Somebody makes its grand return.
Diary of a Somebody premiered at the National Theatre in 1986. Written by John Lahr, it is taken verbatim from the private diaries of Joe Orton chronicling the final eight months of his life in 1967, before he was murdered by his partner Kenneth Halliwell before taking his own life.
For this production, directed by Nicol Rao Pamparé, the role of Joe Orton is played by George Kemp - absolutely mesmerising to watch as he channels the narcissistic tendencies of the late playwright. With an arrogant smile permanently adorning his face, Kemp becomes Orton in what is some truly fantastic acting. Present on stage for the majority of the play, Kemp charms and corrupts - not just his fellow characters but also the audience.
Toby Osmond plays his long-suffering partner Kenneth Halliwell, having the unenvious task of navigating the darkness and anguish his character goes through that ultimately leads to the tragic demise of the pair. Osmond plays this with a quiet subtlety and sensitivity, giving a dry and withdrawn performance that succeeds in amplifying the more emotional moments in the character.
The other four actors play a revolving door of characters, some whose appearances are fleeting with others who are seen repeatedly. Highlights include Jamie Zubairi's brilliant take on Kenneth Williams and Ryan Rajan Mal as Paul McCartney. Socha Kennedy shows fantastic versatility in her characters, including Joe's sister Leonie, while Jemma Churchill is a standout whenever she is on the stage with her best moments including a disgruntled audience member who felt compelled to write hate mail to Joe (though it turns out he was writing these letters himself) and a cheerful, friendly neighbour who keeps positive even when she has an unfortunate yet hilarious accident.
The last production at Seven Dials Playhouse boasted fabulous staging including video projection. There are no bells and whistles present for this production. Instead we get a fairly bare bones stage featuring a bed and a table that never changes even when the location does. This means we are relied upon to use our imagination - thanks to the remarkable acting and great storytelling, this is successfully achieved.
What really elevates Diary of a Somebody is the writing. Taken verbatim from his diaries, they can be incomplete and provide an inconsistent narrative but this feels fitting to the subject matter. Because of this, we never actually see Joes death - the end may feel slightly anticlimactic but given that the play is from the perspective of Orton and his diary entries, it makes perfect sense. The play is full of sexually explicit attitudes, and even comes with a warning that these attitudes represented the times and have been retained for historical authenticity. While it might make some people uncomfortable to listen to, again it is in keeping with the play itself.
I definitely felt that this was a play you would take a lot more from if you were overly familiar with Joe Ortons life and works. Sadly, my own ignorance on the matter meant I surely lost some enjoyment due to this, but it left me wanting to find out more. Ultimately, this is a play that celebrates a man who made his mark in the theatre, despite his own flaws and relatively short time in the limelight. A celebration of theatre in itself, Diary of a Somebody is another hit for Seven Dials Playhouse - surely one of the most exciting venues in the West End at the moment.
Diary of a Somebody plays at Seven Dials Playhouse until April 30th. Tickets from sevendialsplayhouse.co.uk
Photos by Brittain Photography