Review: The Glass Protégé is more than just full-frontal nudity

Joe Williams April 30, 2015
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The Glass Protégé takes a tragic look at what is was like to be gay and fame-hungry in 1940s Hollywood.

The new play from Dylan Costello is currently playing to a packed house at London’s Park Theatre, with promises of ‘very strong language and scenes of full-frontal male nudity’ guaranteed to fill the seats at any London fringe production.

An intense examination of Hollywood’s obsession with image, glamour and power, the play revolves around of Patrick Glass, a young, naive Englishman who arrives in Hollywood eager to make his name in the movie industry.

Within days of arriving, he is subjected to a name change and told he will be married to his leading lady (whether he wants to be or not), before embarking on a scandalous homosexual love affair with his famous co-star, Jackson Harper.

This was a period when the industry owned it’s stars, who they viewed as nothing more than another commodity. The effects this had on the stars themselves are conveyed convincingly by both leads, but special mention has to go to Emily Loomes’ solid performance as the tragic, loveable Candice.

One of the play’s main strengths lies in its strong ensemble cast, none of whom are wasted or used simply to fill the space (of which there is already very little), with Mary Stewart’s bitchy, venomous Nella and Stephen Connery-Brown’s weird, eccentric George bringing particular colour and believability to their roles.

However, the stand-out performance comes from the play’s leading man, David R.Butler, who brings a rawness and authenticity to his role of Patrick that Alexander Hulme fails to encapsulate as Jackson.

Butler carries the central relationship between the two leads, adding a depth that is desperately needed if the audience are to invest in the connection between them.

It also raises some interesting questions about the only character not credited – Hollywood. Much focus is placed on how difficult life was for stars back in the ‘Golden Era’ of ‘Hollywoodland’, with the town and even the infamous sign being directly blamed for ruining people’s lives, watching, judging and controlling them.

Promotion for the production also places a huge emphasis on this idea, describing 1949 as ‘a time when the movies were king and the movie stars merely pawns for the studio bosses,’ and Patrick’s exposure to ‘the full force of the studio’s career-destroying muscle.’

On leaving the play, however, I couldn’t help asking myself – has that much really changed? How often do we really see strong, well rounded, three dimensional homosexual characters on our screens?

If the recent GLAAD statistics are to be believed, the answer is very, very rarely. Add to that how few Hollywood stars are out, proud and still securing themselves leading parts and you realise that, although the film companies would no doubt argue differently, Hollywood still has a huge problem with homosexual actors and characters alike.

Overall, The Glass Protégé is a powerful play, asking important questions and raising important issues – even though it may not have all of the answers. It isn’t perfect, but the rough, rushed, intimate feel adds to the plays appeal, giving it a passionate depth that Costello should be proud of. It is a play well worth seeing, simply for David R.Butler’s performance if nothing else.

The Glass Protégé is showing at The Park Theatre until May 19th.

More: Gay, Hollywood, London, London, Park Theatre, Theatre

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