Serious middle-class types wanting to rescue prostitutes is a social phenomenon probably as old as the “oldest profession” itself. William Gladstone and Charles Dickens are two of the most famous practitioner of this dubious endeavour, but they had many forebears, and have many followers.
Observers are prone - with good reason - to scoff at the motives of the rescuers - and the more self-aware will question these themselves. And that’s what Marc, the studious, thoughtful music transposer who takes on that role in John W Lowell’s Taken In, which opened last night at the Barons Court Theatre, does, when he finds himself irresistibly drawn to Danny, the rent boy who he meets on Hampstead Heath.
To describe the Barons Court Theatre as “intimate” is no exaggeration, and you might think you don’t want to watch a gay relationship at such close quarters. But this is, by and large, subtly done, and Danny’s early attempts at seduction are so abrupt and obvious that only the coyest could be embarrassed. And as the relationship moves on to a more intimate but, on Marc’s decision, distinctly non-sexual, frame there’s nothing more to worry about.
Marc wants to rescue Danny - to set his dysfunctional life in order, to get him writing to his Mum, to get him a “proper”, safe job, to turn him into something he’s not. He’s well aware of the likelihood of failure - we hear, as he offers asides delivered as much as to himself as to the audience - his understanding of his own mixed motives, yet also his desperate desire to succeed in this non-relationship, where all of his previous relationships have foundered.
The play was originally written with a US setting, but for this European debut John Lowell’s script has been localised - hence the key role of the Heath - but the production has avoided the trap of going too far down the “this is London - look, see” route.
Phil Price delivers a distinctly Cockney, jaunty rent boy - fitting nearly all of the stereotypes, but then you get the feeling that Danny the character is consciously doing so - fair enough. Gareth Watkins plays Marc with disciplined strength; it would be easy for this part to slip into Victorian melodrama, but this trap is avoided.
His task is aided by the generally solid script that lightens the key moments with frequent laughs. Marc is particularly prone to playing with the language: “I saw you and I slipped into cruise mode,” he tells Danny, by way of explanation of their meeting. If the action proceeds in a predictable way, then the strength of the characters makes up for this.
Criticisms? Well I can’t but wonder if it was necessary to shift the set around - from park bench to sofa is not such a big shift, and in this space furniture moving is distinctly distracting as the action goes on in the corners. And there were last night a few small technical problems with sound and lighting.
But a good script and fine acting makes this a “rescue” that is well worth watching.
The production continues until March 5. For tickets: 020 8932 4747. The production company is Shamelessboyz.