Feature: Torch Song Trilogy back on London stage

Amy Bourke March 9, 2007
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The award-winning Torch Song Trilogy by Harvey Fierstein will be making a long overdue return to London next week.

One of the first plays about life as a gay man, Torch Song Trilogy is explores the process of finding love and dealing with the prejudices of one’s nearest and dearest.

From Tuesday it will be showing at the Bridewell Theatre in Fleet Street, performed by the Tower Theatre Company, a London-based amateur dramatics society which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.

The Tower Theatre Company is strictly non-professional, but many famous names started their acting careers there, including Richard Baker, the late Alec Clunes (father of Martin Clunes), Tom Courtenay, Siân Phillips and Michael Gambon.

The director of the Tower Theatre Company production told why she wanted to bring a revival of TST to London.

“I saw Torch Song Trilogy in the West End in 1985 after a suitor bought me tickets to impress me,” explains Lily Ann Green.

“It was shocking, funny, educational and deeply moving all at the same time. It has been on my wish list as a director forever.”

Set in the 1980s, the play follows the story of Arnold, a Jewish drag queen living in New York.

The three acts of the play all focus on different periods of Arnold’s life. His love life involves a choice between Ed, an unreliable and confused bisexual, or Alan, a young model.

Just when it seems that Arnold has made his choice and is reaping the benefits, tragedy strikes.

The last act of the play, Widows and Children First! sees Arnold several years later, having adopted a gay teenager called David.

When Arnold’s mother comes to visit from Florida he has to deal with her intolerance, and try to win her respect.

Fierstein was only 17 years old when he wrote and starred in the first play, which drew criticism for not mentioning the AIDS crisis of the era.

Torch Song Trilogy started off-Broadway in 1981, with a teenage Matthew Broderick playing the part of David, and Estelle Getty as Mrs Becker.

It was rumoured to be the part that got Getty the role of Rose in Golden Girls.

Martin Jackson plays Arnold in the Tower Theatre Company production. He has acted with the company for ten years, and by day works in the finance department at Harrods.

“There hasn’t been a major revival of this play since the original West End production, and many people only know it from the film; the play has a real cult following,” he told

“That’s a huge responsibility because I have to live up to that and do it justice, which will be challenging to say the least.”

Jackson admits that rehearsals have been difficult because he has had to concentrate on not bumping into lighting fixtures while wearing six-inch heels; something not every actor has to contend with when learning a difficult soliloquy.

Kaj Meerstadt plays the part of Alan. He also works for a media company, but is in the process of setting up his own massage business.

He says: “The character is very different to me. I am not a New Yorker, I am not particularly masculine, and so I work hard to make my voice low and gravely.

“I’m not gay either, so to get myself into character I try to imagine myself as all of these things as I go about my day. If I eat breakfast I will think, “What would Alan have for breakfast?”

“I went out to the Admiral Duncan in Soho on Friday, to do some research and make myself more convincing. It was a lot of fun. I got so pissed I don’t know where we went after that!”

Torch Song Trilogy transferred to Broadway in 1983, winning two Tony Awards for best play and best actor in the process.

It was made into a film in 1988, directed by Paul Bogart, with the part of Alan rewritten and enlarged so that an older Matthew Broderick could play the role.

The play was originally written to take over four hours, but the Tower Theatre Company has cut the length to just two and a half hours.

Lily Ann Green says: “The play is so long, we have had no choice but to cut pages and pages. Please, don’t tell Harvey Fierstein.”

Torch Song Trilogy is at the Bridewell Theatre, Fleet Street from Tuesday 13th to Saturday 17th March.

Tickets are available from the Tower Theatre Box Office on 020 7226 3633 or online at

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