Hollywood is homophobic. That's the message of this new play from writer Dylan Costello who attempts a double narrative to explore the hypocrisies of the movie business, where being forced to stay in the closet is the only way to ensure a successful career. Whilst the topic may be ripe for exploration, 'The Glass Protégé' falters by creating a limited historical narrative that's as fragile as its title suggests.
The main problem with the writing is that it's trying to do two many things. The central story between the younger Pat and Jackson in the Hollywoodland of 1949 is by far the most interesting aspect, yet the scenes between them are the most underdeveloped. Just as they threaten to boil we cut to 1989 where the older Pat, now a bed ridden bitter pensioner lives with his son who has bought a German wife from a newspaper and has come to a sudden realisation that his actions were wrong.
There are too many broad strokes within the writing to be able to latch onto any serious sentiment, and its full of worn out clichés and prophetic irony that have the audience rolling their eyes. Set on a simple thrust stage there are sight-line issues and erroneous blocking that hinders many moments as director Matthew Gould seems to struggle with the intimacy and shape of the space.
The younger actors are the most convincing, with David R Butler's 'Patrick' standing out significantly. Alexander Hulme achieves a solid presence as the closeted Hollywood heartthrob, but his character is underwritten and difficult to invest in. Whilst his story is certainly the most tragic, there is not enough exposition to warrant our interest in his outcome, and equally no effective release in order for us to feel justified in the investment. Their scenes are the most natural and develop a good pace, although at times it feels like a set up for an adult film - young 'straight' actor fresh off the boat comes to the studio and is seduced in his trailer by the older heartthrob. You can fill in the rest.
Mary Stewart thrives as the villain of the piece, gossip reporter Nella who represents the Hollywood establishment who were part of, and certainly still are, much of the reason why many stars are forced to stay in the closet. Brimming with acidity, she incurred the biggest audience reaction of the evening complete with a 'boo-hiss'. Not perhaps the intended tone, but one that was a result of her clunky dialogue and one dimensional Disney villain character. There was more than a touch of the Lina Lamont about Emily Loomes' Candice, the blonde bombshell who forces the closet door open in order to save her own career, but she's merely a stock character for the central pair to bounce off rather than offering a female perspective on the pressures of the cut-throat industry.
The double narrative creates a real struggle between worlds and we're never sure whose eyes we're seeing the drama through. The relationship between older Pat and his German assistant Ava is unconvincing, and feels wholly unnecessary. Whilst the message of natural love over marriage of convenience is hammered home, the correlation between the two stories fails due to the weak delivery, as Paul Lavers as the older Pat often flounders onstage.
The concept is more successful than the delivery, and there is certainly a good piece of writing to be had on the subject. This feels like a piece that could use more development, and there is certainly a strong central element that should be explored. However in this incarnation, classic Hollywood it is not and you breathe a sigh of relief when the credits roll.