Le Grand Mort
Trafalgar Studios 2
From 20 September 2017 to 28 October 2017
Review by Howard Loxton
The late Stephen Clark wrote this play especially for Julian Clary but it is a rather darker piece than Clary’s usual material: more Jeffery Dahmer than Dandini in its mixture of sex, death and cooking.
Le Petit Mort is one way of referring to orgasm but Le Grand Mort presents us with foreplay when Clary’s Michael invites a young man he met in a pub to come round for dinner.
The first twenty minutes of this ninety-minute, single-act play is Michael alone in his pristine, stainless steel kitchen which boasts a life-size, three-dimensional version of Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man as decoration as well as shiny worktop, fridge and cooker. He chops tomatoes and peppers, stirs in capers (it smells great). He is cooking, he tells us, a puttanesca sauce to serve with pasta. Puttana means whore and the rest of the play has the same level of subtlety but delivered with Clary’s silky style made it sound so witty.
Even before he starts talking (directly addressing the audience), Clary has got his first laughs. He then begins a rhyming verse monologue by floating the idea that a subtle change in the sensation of orgasm may signal you are going down with flu then launches into talk of necrophilia, quoting Herodotus on Egyptian practice to prevent embalmers indulging in it.
When Tim, the dinner guest, turns up, played by the dishy James Nelson-Joyce, conversation continues the sex and death theme. It ranges from what happened to Rasputin’s penis and Catherine the Great’s fatal encounter with a horse, erotic idols from Marilyn to Diana, even Christ on the Cross on the chain round the neck as a necrophile’s sex god.
The tongue-in-cheek shockingness has its own kind of humour, but with a succession of scenes separated by blackouts it tries to turn serious, discussing the difficulty of achieving real intimacy with another. Nelson-Joyce is genuinely moving as he tells of his first lost love (with a cock that was perfect) but, even as the knives come out and director Christopher Renshaw turns down the lights and turns up the music, this still feels titillating, promising something profound but never delivering.
Tim takes his kit off, matching well with the Vitruvian standards, but the baring of feeling in this encounter is far from completely convincing. Like the setting, it’s contrived although stylish. Clary’s characteristic delivery gives it an air of more wit than is actually present and though the play seems to aim for some classic catharsis it never gets there. Superficially entertaining, Le Grand Mort is an extended first course that never serves up the main one.