Now aged 70, gay actor Bette Bourne, gloriously bedecked in what he terms his “Golders Green drag”, delivers an inspirational evening as he recounts stories from his life in response to gentle prodding from Mark Ravenhill.
A condensed version of last year’s scripted conversations, originally spread over three nights, the structure does tend to hamstring Bourne’s tales of post-war Soho, discovering drag and the foundation of his ground-breaking Bloolips theatre company. Tales of his father’s violence sound flatter than they should when read from the page in front of him. Having Ravenhill’s offer of a tissue after a particularly harrowing recollection delivered as a scripted direction rather than a genuine moment of concern lends an unnecessarily manipulative air to a scene that deserves greater impact.
In his role as interviewer, Ravenhill does a good job of keeping the subject matter on track. His occasional dips into portrayals of other characters in Bourne’s life, however, are too brief and too scattered to work as intended, becoming instead unwelcome distractions.
It is when Bourne goes off-book, either staring wistfully into the distance or moving downstage to perform to his audience, that the evening comes alive. His determination, forthrightness and good humour come to the fore, keenly demonstrating why he is one of the few people truly deserving the epithet of ‘gay icon’.
A Life in Three Acts
Soho Theatre, London, until February 27, 2010
Authors: Bette Bourne, Mark Ravenhill
Producers: London Artists Projects, Soho Theatre
Cast: Bette Bourne, Mark Ravenhill
Running time: 1hr 50min
Reviewed for The Stage